This is a short af piece for now since I'm just doing an impulsive thing and seeing what happens. What happens here takes place in the universe of my other fic, Subject 204 , but there's no need to read that to understand what happens here. I'm just doing a fieldtest and playing around, I guess. If there's enough interest in this AU, I'll add more to it, but my priority is to finish Subject 204 first. But when that's done, I may have time to play with this some more.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The empty halls were dark and cold. There was an eeriness to it that sent a chill up Chloe's spine, as much as she'd rather not admit that to anyone, not even herself. After all, what would David say if Chloe said that she didn't want to take the graveyard shifts because the facility was creepy at night?
That was just dumb as shit and it was bad enough that David already clearly perceived Chloe as dumb as shit. No amount of helping out in the garage was going to change that dipshit's mind, so why bother trying? After all, just because Chloe smoked pot and dropped out of school didn't mean she was an idiot.
Maybe dropping out of school wasn't her finest moment. Particularly when her lack of money became painfully inconvenient, keeping her from engaging in her miscellaneous hobbies. That and money got tight for Mom, with the whole trying to support a useless daughter thing.
And that was how Chloe now found herself wandering the admittedly creepy halls of Prescott Research Institute. It was a bright enough place during the day, bustling with activity as the employees did their science-y things, poking and prodding at psychics or typing intensely into their machines. Though she would never say it out loud, Chloe did envy the scientists who got the chance to research and study stuff as fascinating and phenomenal as psychics. She was curious about it, to say the least. But she did lose her opportunity to be one of them when she decided that school was useless.
"Could have had it all, Price." It was dumb, talking to herself. But in a place this dark and quiet at this dead time, Chloe had to find some way to stay sane. Even if that meant acting a little insane. Like talking to herself. "Could be raking it in as one of the scientists but instead you're stuck counting pennies as David's probationary pet guard." Grumbling to herself, Chloe finished up her rounds on this particular floor and pressed the down button on the elevator.
There were a few other people on the other floors, either scientists working late shifts, interns trying to go above and beyond or unlucky rookie guards like Chloe.
But most of the world was enjoying the comfort of their beds right about now and Chloe resented them for it. David, especially. He got to enjoy cuddling up to Mom and getting his stupid greasy hands all over her while Chloe was stuck here, bored out of her mind.
And just a little creeped out.
"Damn you, David." Chloe muttered to herself, if only to break the uncomfortable quiet as the elevator opened up to one of the lower floors. "Damn you for leaving me with the crappy, boring shift while the rest of the human world is chilling or partying right now."
She pointed the flashlight in front of her as she walked down the hallway. This floor seemed deserted. None of the rooms had their lights on. At least in the upper floors there was some semblance of activity. Here, it was just totally dead.
It was so dark, her mind was starting to fill in the gaps with imagined figures and that just added to the whole creepiness factor. Without her issued, heavy-duty, bulky as hell flashlight, Chloe would probably be walking into walls. The only other sources of light were the glow of control panels next to the doors.
The hairs at the back of her neck were prickling and she tried to shake it off. There was just something about this area that felt so off.
With a huff, she pushed herself forward.
It was tempting to turn around and just go back to the upper floors, but David had given Chloe a good long earful about being thorough and familiarizing herself with the facility. If she didn't know this place's floorplans better than her own tattoo by the time he came in for his morning shift, there would be no end to the nagging.
So she focused instead on walking owards, familiarizing herself with whatever she saw.
"What even is this floor?" Upon closer inspection, the doors revealed themselves to be heavy, with small windows at eyelevel and a panel of some sort at shoulder level. "Those look more like prison doors than-"
Chloe gasped, catching sight of someone in one of the rooms.
Fumbling with her flashlight she lifted it up and pointed it at the thick glass. The beam of light cut through the darkness of the room, throwing the figure inside into the harsh contrast of light and shadow.
Her hair was sticking out at odd ends and what looked like blood could be seen on her nose and hands. A thin fabric almost like a hospital gown was draped over her scrawny frame. And as the girl turned her head to squint at the light, Chloe felt her heart skip a beat.
This can also be found on my tumblr, stefi-delly. Feel free to hit me up over there or bug me if you want more of this. I haven't fully nailed down all the details yet, but I have a bunch of ideas for this AU and I feel like it would be fun to play with.
I'm blown away by how much attention my little comic and ficlet got (on here, tumblr and ff) so lol I had to sit down and nail down the worldbuilding and backstory. I've more or less got a plan for how this will flow. I normally post much longer chapters than these, but I think for now we're okay with starting with short chapters first as I get a feel of the characters and as I give you guys little tastes of this world.
Also, I made a collection for the subjectverse if you're curious about this universe and wanna skim the other works that happen in thus AU. For now as I post this, it's mostly Once Upon a Time fandom pieces, but we'll see where things go from here. I'm hoping to come up with or collab on more fics for other fandoms that can blend into this universe.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
"C-" Max's throat was dry and tight, the word painfully forcing its way through constricted walls. "Chloe?"
It was hard to see, with the bright beam of the flashlight piercing her eyes and just about blinding her. Lifting her bloody hand to shield her face from the light, she turned to get a better look, still not quite sure if she could truly see what she was seeing.
"Is that…" It was hard to hear through the thick door, but the guard's voice was faltering. "Is that really you?"
With a pounding head and unsteady legs, Max forced herself to stand up. The pain felt like knives and hammers forcing their way through her skull, straight into her brain at every angle. She stumbled as her cell spun in and out of focus. The light blinded her eyes and the agony was crippling, forcing her to lean against the bedframe with her free hand.
Bile rose up her tight throat. Her stomach lurched. A clumsy step made her knee buckle under her, but she caught herself and leaned against the wall, breaths heavy and wheezy. Max squinted at the tiny window and forced herself to keep going.
Seeming to realize how much of an effect the flashlight had, the guard angled it downwards and to the side, finally out of Max's eyes.
Gritting her teeth and wiping at her bloody nose, Max moved closer to the door, keeping a hand on the nearest wall to maintain her balance as the floor continued to wobble underneath her bare feet. It felt like an eternity, taking step by dizzying step before she finally made it to the door.
And with her eyes adjusting to the change in light, Max saw that it really was her.
Chloe was here.
The ground threatened to swallow Max up as she fought to stay upright. Darkness was eating away at the corners of her vision and her whole body was heavy with exhaustion, bogged down by the strain of intensive testing.
"Chloe." Max felt her eyes warming up as she took in the sight. The blue hair was still there, but where once was a cocky smirk, there now was a look of utter shock. There seemed to be some mild bags under her eyes, and her face was narrower, older. But other than that, she looked so much better than when they had last been together.
Choking on her words, Max shook her head and pressed a hand against the glass. "You're alive."
This couldn't be real.
Chloe was practically pressing her face against the glass, struggling to take in the sight before her. "H-how… How…"
This wasn't real. It was a trick. Some psychic was messing around and projecting an image to Chloe, flashing a vision of something familiar. Someone familiar. There were psychics that could distort things and implant hallucinations.
That's what this one was doing, fooling Chloe into letting her out. It was just an elaborate form of manipulation and Chloe knew herself to be smarter than that. Besides, David would be murderous if he found out Chloe let a subject out just because it put on a show of resembling a dear departed best friend.
"No." Chloe shook her head. "This is some fucked up illusion."
"Chloe, no." The subject now had both her hands pressed against the glass, and it was hard to look away.
Her hair was shorter and her face was different. Older, thinner. Gaunt, even. Eyes framed by deep circles, cheeks starved and hollow. Even in the limited light, it wasn't hard to see how thin she was under the gown. Her arms looked small and frail as she clearly struggled to keep herself standing. It was also pulling at Chloe's heart to see the drying blood on the girl's shirt and hands.
But there was also still so much of the girl that looked so familiar.
The freckles were there. Even that slight bit of overbite that reminded Chloe of a rabbit. And those eyes. Those deep blue eyes, always so penetrating. Always wide and open, absorbing everything and projecting emotions more clearly than an open book.
"I saw you." Chloe shook her head as the distant memories came rushing back to her, threatening to pound through the thick walls she kept around her mind. It was years ago, but flashes of it came back so clearly that she could almost feel like she was still there. Almost feel the blood in her hands. Almost feel the shock of being kicked out of a moving car mere seconds before it happened. "I was at both funerals."
Fighting back the tears threatening to fill her eyes, Chloe clenched her jaw and took a step back. "This is a trick. Quit fucking with me!"
"Please," The subject's pale face was so close to the glass her breath was fogging over it. "It's me, Chloe. It's really me, and I'm so, so glad you're alive."
"Shut it!" Chloe lashed out, slamming her palm against the door, making the subject flinch away from the window. "Just… just go back to your bed, 219." It felt wrong, distancing herself from this person by addressing her as just a number. It's what David and most of the guards did and it always made Chloe uncomfortable.
"Hey." Chloe cleared her throat and rapped on the glass with her knuckles. "Step away from the door, 219. Don't make me come in there." As she steeled her voice, Chloe hated herself for how the subject's teary eyes widened with a look of pain. Still unsteady on her feet, the girl stumbled backwards until she was on her bed.
The whole time, her eyes never left Chloe. There was a depth of emotion in them, full of betrayal and pain.
It was unnerving.
"Max is dead." Chloe whispered the words to herself, reminding herself of reality. There was a funeral and everything. Whatever was inside that cell couldn't possibly be the real Max. Even it did go through the trouble of creating the illusion of an aged-up starved Max in maybe her twenties, instead of the wacky kid that Chloe had last seen. "She's dead."
But as she continued her rounds, she couldn't get her mind off of those tired, sad eyes and how they lit up with relief when recognition dawned in them at the sight of Chloe.
Some night this was turning out to be. Chloe knew she was going to be passing by the nearest store on the way home. Booze would help clear her head enough to pass out and forget about this whole mess.
I'd love to hear your theories about how this universe is a thing and what you're expecting to happen next 8D
Here's a much longer chapter for you all! Thanks again to all y'all who read and review. You're great. This chapter will show a bit more of what reality is like for Max, and also a bit for Chloe. (Oh and no chapter art for this one yet, but I updated the previous chapter with art in the footnote so you can check that out if you haven't yet)
Also, I think I should warn you all that there may be some triggers in this story. It'll get pretty intense. If blood, violence, self-harm and alcohol may trigger you, I recommend you proceed with caution as this story progresses.
Still, for how dark this is going to get, I also want us to work towards a satisfying ending. The suffering will be worth it in the end. I want that for both you as a reader and myself as a writer. I want this ride to be worth it.
OKAY I'M DONE RAMBLING ENJOY THE CHAPTER.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
With her shift coming to a close, Chloe spent the last half hour going through the maps and notes in the guards' locker room. Partly because it was her job to know the layout, mostly because she wanted to figure out where she ended up going and who that subject was. Maybe there were notes somewhere about that particular floor. Hopefully even something with details on the subjects so Chloe could finally put her mind at ease and tell herself that the being in that cell wasn't Max.
She first looked through the guide listing the building's different floor levels.
6: Admin Offices
5: Cafeteria; 3nd Floor of Library
4: Low-Level Examination Rooms and 2nd Floor of Library
3: Library and Research Rooms
2: Conference Rooms
M: Garden and Lounge
B1: Parking Lot
B2: Parking Lot; Control Room; Guard's Locker Rooms; Staff Cafeteria
B3: Mid-Level Examination Rooms and Laboratories
B4: High-Level Examination Rooms and Laboratories
B5: Subject's Rooms
So she had apparently gone down to the subject's cells, thinking it was another Exam Room and Labs floor. It was a humiliatingly rookie mistake to be as surprised as she was to wind up on B5 without checking on the map.
"Good job, Price." Even if it wasn't dark and creepy anymore, Chloe was still talking to herself. Hopefully the other guards on duty weren't within earshot to hear her.
Adjusting her cap, Chloe next went through the floor plan for B5. It had the layout of the different rooms the subjects were being kept in.
Those weren't rooms, those were cells.
Feeling her stomach churn, Chloe looked more closely at the floor plan, searching for something, anything that would give her some information about the subjects being detained down there. Instead, all she had were the numbers assigned to the subjects. Just that the girl was called Subject 219.
No name. Not even a first name. She was just a number.
"Okay." Chloe suppressed a sigh and decided to instead check the manual. She remembered seeing some notes about the subjects at the back of the book. Information meant to give the guards a better understanding about how to subdue and control their charges.
Chronikinetic (Time Manipulation)
Ability-blocking cuffs; restraints when necessary (handcuffs or leather straps depending on examination to be conducted)
When handling subject, it is recommended to wear the ability-shielding equipment unless otherwise specified by the scientist in charge of the particular examination.
WARNING: Subject's abilities could allow her to escape with ease if ability-blocking cuffs are deactivated without appropriate safety measures. Be very careful when manipulating the settings of the subject's cuffs. Consult scientist or technician if cuffs appear to be malfunctioning or if you experience strange feelings of déjà vu around this subject.
This didn't confirm nor deny that the subject could really be Max. It did, clear up whether or not the subject was capable of projecting illusions. Since she wasn't, that meant that the appearance she showed Chloe was presumably the girl's actual appearance.
But even then, Chloe couldn't see how that girl could possibly be Max.
Closing the handbook once she got to the confidentiality warnings at the back, Chloe was about to grumble to herself when a figure at the door startled her. With a squeak and a jump, she dropped the handbook.
"Finally learning to make yourself useful and obey orders?"
"Jesus!" Chloe felt her face flush as she picked the handbook up and put it back on the table. "Good job on sneaking up on me, step-douche."
"Chloe." His voice was a low warning.
It took physical effort for Chloe to hold back the smartass retorts she really wanted to make. She just had to think of Mom and remember that working here and earning money and being a useful daughter was all for her. Not for this asshole. It just so happened that excelling at this job meant taking orders from him.
"Was I supposed to go to the lower floors or just check out the labs and exam rooms?" Choosing to instead ask a valid question, Chloe lifted her chin and felt a rush of pride at how the words were only slightly peppered with her snarky tone. "Coz I also patrolled the lower floors last night."
David's brows rose up briefly as his face registered surprise, then his expression relaxed to a more neutral look to accompany his shrug. "I was just expecting you to do your rounds in the upper floors, but if you went down that's fine too. You still need more briefing though, before you can be allowed to handle the subjects and interact with them."
The security measures ruffled Chloe, but she reminded herself that all these guidelines were in place to protect both the subjects in the cells and the scientists and staff outside the cells. That, and she vaguely recalled hearing in the news something about a similar facility that had a massive breakout.
Something that bad would not look good for this place.
Although the thought of the Prescotts coming under fire because of fuckups in their own facility? That would be one for the books and Chloe could almost smirk at the fantasy of it.
David's frown deepened. "You better not be high and spacing out on me, or so help me-"
"Jesus Christ, David, I'm clean." Chloe's blood boiled and she had to clench her hands into fists to keep herself under control. "I'll even pee in a fucking cup for you."
For a few tense, quiet seconds, they just glowered at each other. In the silence between them, Chloe could feel her heart pounding in her ears and it took every effort and ounce of self-control to hold back the urge to lash out and tear right into David's fragile ego.
"That's not necessary." David finally grumbled out his response and turned to start heading for the changing room.
"Wait." Chloe spoke up before she could rethink the decision. "Are any of our subjects outpatients or are they all being detained here?"
Raising an eyebrow, David responded in a tone snappier than it needed to be. "What's it to you?"
"I'm just asking! God!" Chloe's shoulders were tense and her jaw was sore from gritting and grinding her teeth. "And by the way wouldn't knowing that shit make me a more effective Davidlette?" As much as calling herself a miniature David was meant to jab at him, Chloe felt like she took damage from that quip as well. Who even wanted to consider themselves a mini-David?
"I mean if I actually knew which subjects are... y'know…" Recovering from the poorly chosen snap, Chloe pushed herself forward- both physically, closer to David, and figuratively, continuing to strengthen her point. "…not supposed to be walking around outside, wouldn't that make me a more effective guard?"
"Fine!" David was red in the face, growing more and more riled up, but he caught himself and straightened up.
He adjusted his cap and lowered his voice to a more neutral tone. "There aren't any. All of them are being detained. Or in-patients." He rolled his eyes. "Whatever the correct term is. Some of them have visitation rights, some don't. I could forward the list to you on your next shift."
"Awesome." With a roll of her eyes, Chloe purposely avoided putting any genuine enthusiasm into the response. She started walking off to the changing room, suddenly eager to shrug off the stupid uniform. It just felt way too tight right now.
Clenching her jaw to avoid letting out a groan, Chloe turned around. "What?"
"It's good you're taking some responsibility and initiative for once."
Awkward, and infuriating. David just wasn't going to change. Even if Chloe was putting so much fucking effort into being less of a useless layabout and more of a productive member of this stupid society. Hell, Chloe was pretty sure that even if she stopped dyeing her hair, David would still see her as a waste of space.
And when he pretended to be fatherly like that? It just came off condescending and made Chloe want to wrap her hands around his throat.
Maybe Chloe was being too hard on him and also being too stubborn to give him credit for his effort.
But when his effort was condescending and awkward, why bother giving it any credit?
"Whatever." Chloe walked past him, too tired to be in his presence any longer.
This was one long hell of a night and she just wanted it to be over.
As painful as it was to see Chloe die a thousand deaths in a thousand different ways, Max couldn't deny that it was excruciating to see the suspicion in her eyes and hear the coldness in her voice. It was normal to see that in the other guards and even in some of the scientists. That was a fact of life in this timeline that had now come to become Max's reality.
"Are you ready for today's tests, dear 219?" Dr. Jefferson's smirk was unnerving as he adjusted the headset that kept him partially immune to her rewind powers. The way Max understood his explanation of it when they first started the tests (and as each prototype improved over the years), it didn't stop Max from undoing his action with a rewind, but it allowed him to retain his memory of each action at each rewind.
Max didn't grace him with an answer, keeping her chin high while the guards strapped her arms down to the chair.
"Quiet mood today?" Dr. Jefferson raised an eyebrow at her. When Max remained silent, he rolled his eyes then made a gesture at the camera. Max recognized it. She looked down at her wrists and watched as the green light on the cuffs switched to red.
She could use her powers now.
But deep in a facility full of guards with equipment that could counter her powers, what chance did she have of escaping this pit of hell? She'd given it a couple of good tries and that ended in more than enough misery and regret.
"Let's start with something simple." Dr. Jefferson strolled over to the table in front of Max. The only item on it was a glass of water, close to the edge. There was nothing particularly extraordinary about it. Then Dr. Jefferson slid it over the edge of the table. It shattered on the floor, sending water and glass spraying at their feet.
Max hissed as she felt a shard graze her leg.
"Keep me from breaking the glass." Dr. Jefferson made a show of eyeing the guards behind Max, delivering a subtle warning to remind her of the consequences were she to decide not to cooperate.
Shifting in her seat, Max sighed and opened her hand, angling it upwards as far as the cuffs would allow. The familiar throb in her head told her that her powers were gearing up to be used. The energy started at the sides of her forehead before travelling down her shoulder, though her arm and out her hand.
The world around her slowed to a stop, blurring around her until she was focusing on just the glass. The shards and water retreated back into each other, repairing the glass until it rose back up and onto the table.
Dr. Jefferson's hand moved away from the glass and back to his side.
Max huffed as she stopped the rewind and desperately searched for a way to stop him from knocking the glass off the edge of the table.
Her hands were strapped to the chair, so she couldn't catch the glass herself, which she instinctively tried to do as Dr. Jefferson's hand moved towards the table.
"You've used your abilities." He knocked the glass over and it shattered once more. "Now what?"
"Fuck." Max cursed, and tried again, this time pushing past the feeling of hammers pounding against her head.
She wound back through the glass returning to the table, back to Jefferson disabling the blockers on her cuffs. Pain in her head increased tenfold as she struggled to rewind back beyond that point, but it felt like pushing against an unmoving wall. She strained to get past the wall, but it only increased the headache from pounding to piercing.
Unable to keep fighting past the barrier, Max stopped. She went limp against the restraints, breathing heavily and hanging her head down.
"That was definitely interesting to see." Dr. Jefferson rubbed at his beard as he drew closer to the table, once again knocking the glass over. It shattered for the third time, and Max felt another several shards graze her skin. "But the glass will still break. Interestingly, I saw what you were trying to do there."
It was hard to fight for each breath, struggling to inhale enough air to get past the tight straps around her chest and into her lungs.
"I think I want to see you try that again." Dr. Jefferson said. "See if you can push your abilities to the point of winding back beyond the moment I deactivate your cuffs."
Though the headache had dulled when she stopped straining to use her powers, Max was reluctant to try again. There was already a thick feeling in her nose that told her it was on the verge of bleeding.
"219." Dr. Jefferson put his hands on the table and leaned forward, uncomfortably close to her. "I know you're capable of more than this. Why are you performing so poorly today?"
How was she supposed to make any difference to the fate of the glass when her hands were tied and the cuffs kept her from rewinding past that point? The condescending tone agitated Max and with a huff, she gathered up the last reserves of her strength and tried again.
The glass went back to the table. Dr. Jefferson walked back to the end of the room. The cuffs were activated again.
And Max pushed past that barrier, straining between the moment in time when her cuffs were deactivated and the preceding moment she was now trying to work herself into, when the cuffs were doing their work.
Her skull was tightening itself around her brain, squeezing in the harder she tried to push.
Sweat was coating her face and she felt like nails were being pounded into her head.
But the barrier was wavering, she felt the straps coming undone, felt herself standing up. The pain was too much. The cuffs were beeping and she knew if she pushed any further, they would-
A scream tore out of Max as electricity jolted through her arms from the cuffs. She cut off her powers immediately to stop the pain from building up further.
But she was free and she had a second to take action.
Max swiped at the glass, sending it flying across the wall, where it shattered for the fourth time, but at least it was by Max's own hand now instead of Dr. Jefferson's.
The guards moved into action, grabbing her arms and shoving her into the seat. They strapped her down once more, but this time she distinctly felt like the restraints were much tighter now. It was cutting into her skin in a way it wasn't before. Her hand felt stiff and tense from the constriction.
"Interesting choice, 219." Dr. Jefferson nodded, eyeing the broken glass. "Thinking outside of the box. You kept me from breaking the glass by breaking it yourself."
Weak from exerting herself, lightheaded from the headache, breathing heavily through her mouth, Max forced herself to lift her chin and look up at Dr. Jefferson. The thick, clogged feeling in her nose bridge and the wetness on her upper lip told her she was having a nosebleed again.
Dr. Jefferson swam in and out of focus as he drew closer to her. "It's concerning though, that you're able to use your abilities even with the activated cuffs. But it seems you're only capable of that if you're winding back from a moment where the blockers have been deactivated."
"Why are you doing this?" Max tried to put a demand into her question but with how drained and breathless she was, her voice came out barely more than a whimper. "What are these tests supposed to accomplish?"
"Is a thirst for knowledge not enough of an answer for you?" Dr. Jefferson once again pressed his palms against the table and leaned over it, pressing his face uncomfortably close to hers. "You can manipulate time and in effect change reality."
The words hit Max more harshly than she would have liked to admit. There were so many realities she changed, lives she affected, loved ones she killed. All stemming from the use and overuse of her powers.
"If that isn't a concerning enough reason to keep you detained and find the most effective ways to control your abilities then I don't know what is."
A cold, hateful voice in her head told her this reality was as good a penance as any for all the chaos she'd caused. If Chloe was here… if Chloe was alive and well, then maybe that was enough. She didn't need Max anymore.
And Max wished she didn't have to use her powers anymore either.
"Chin up, 219." Dr. Jefferson patted her cheek and she couldn't help but cringe. "Each test brings us to a closer understanding of the scope of your abilities. And we improve our technology with every newly gained understanding."
And yet, Jefferson was still alive and well in this reality, too. In power, even. Not just the photography teacher Mr. Jefferson but Dr. Jefferson, the head scientist of this facility, well-versed in handling psychics and supernaturals.
"Fuck you!" With a burst of energy driven by anger, Max drove herself forward, slamming her forehead straight into his face. She felt the crunch of his glasses breaking between them and the hard collision of his nose against her skull.
Gasping, Dr. Jefferson backed away, throwing his glasses to the floor and putting a hand over his nose. He was red in the face and fuming. "You little-"
Pain shot through Max, catching her by surprise as electricity jolted through her body, burning just under her skin, agonizingly tingling up and down her limbs, making them contract and jerk against the biting straps.
She screamed and gasped, throwing her head back and thrashing as much as the restraints would allow.
It seemed like an eternity of hellish pain before the guard finally moved the electric prod away from her.
Max leaned her head against the back of the chair and struggled to breathe. She couldn't expand her chest as much as she needed to, the straps biting into her skin, constricting against her shoulders. Forced to settle for rapid, shallow breaths through her mouth, Max felt herself getting increasingly light-headed with each gasp.
"My, my. You're unusually feisty today." The condescending tone was back in Dr. Jefferson's voice now that he'd regained his composure. He sounded nasally now, but still cool and calm. "Where is this coming from?"
"How bout…" Max's own voice was also nasal and wheezy. She coughed as leaning her head back sent blood from her nose back up where it wasn't supposed to be. Spluttering and spitting blood, she straightened her head up. "How 'bout finally being sick and tired of being your little lab rat?"
Dr. Jefferson took a handkerchief out of his pocket and dabbed at his bloody nose. "No, I'm pretty sure there's more to this. You've been compliant in recent years, so something may have changed. And I'm going to figure out what did."
He walked past her and towards the door. "But for now, perhaps you need a little break before we continue with more tests."
On one hand, the hard shit like whiskey and vodka had the highest percentage and would hit her fastest, but they were expensive as hell. On the other hand, the beers were cheap, but she would get full before she even got tipsy. Even if Chloe decided to drink on an empty stomach.
Well she did have a job now. And she wouldn't feel bad about buying the expensive stuff because she wasn't going to be depending on Mom's money anymore. That and the hard stuff might actually last a few days since she doubted she could down a whole bottle of vodka on her own in one sitting.
That settled it.
Chloe took the vodka bottle out of the chiller and approached the cashier. The girl behind the counter had a raised eyebrow as she scanned the bottle.
"Fuck you, I work the night shift." Chloe snapped, "This is like prime drinking time as far as my body clock is concerned, bitch." A trickle of guilt filtered through Chloe as the cashier flinched and finished up accepting payment before bagging the purchase.
This was just the pent up energy and turmoil she still felt after seeing the Max-looking subject at the facility. Chloe was agitated and needed an outlet and unfortunately this cashier was at the wrong place at the wrong time.
She turned and nearly jumped out of her skin when she turned to find someone inches away from her face.
"Fuck!" Chloe stumbled backwards but thankfully didn't drop her newly purchased booze. "What do you want?" It took a moment for her to recognize a fellow former student of Blackwell. Although this girl was probably an actual graduate and not a dropout like Chloe.
"Sorry to startle you, Chloe." The girl put a hand over her chest. "It's me, Dana Ward. Remember?"
Raising an eyebrow, Chloe kept her tone uninterested. "Vaguely." Blackwell was a whole lifetime ago. The last she walked those walls was five years ago.
"So you work for PRIPS now?"
"The what now?"
Rolling her eyes and smiling at Chloe like she was dense, Dana said, "Prescott Research Institute for Psychics and Supernaturals?"
"Ah." Chloe hugged her paper bag closer and inched her way around Dana. If memory served right, she was one of those social media junkies and somehow managed to make a career out of it. "And you know I work there, how? Is this part of your stalky blogger gigs now?"
"Your ID is still clipped to your pants."
Chloe looked down. "Fuck."
After she had diligently shed the bulky button-down shirt and all its gear, she had been sure that the only remnants of her uniform were her pants and boots. The stupid hat was in her locker, thank god. But her ID card, the damn thing was required for going in and out of the building, so naturally Chloe didn't leave that in the locker room.
But she was enough of a genius to forget to unclip it from her pants.
"Now," Dana moved in front of Chloe. "Would you be interested in an interview, perhaps?"
"Seriously?" Chloe felt herself getting riled up, her voice giving away her irritation. "Do you want to get me fired?" There were so many rules and so much paperwork that involved shutting up about the facility and what happened inside. As much as working for it sucked, Chloe knew she needed this job and would rather not have to deal with finding another. Not a lot of places were interested in someone with her history.
Talking to some blogger would be a one-way ticket out of employment. Maybe even a ticket into jail time if they were going to get legal as fuck with the contract breach.
And knowing who the Prescotts were, there was definitely a big chance of getting into a mess of legalities.
"We could do it off the record."
Chloe rolled her eyes. "And then you'll still tell the world whatever I tell you, and I still get fired for breaching the NDA thing."
"So you do have non-disclosure agreements as part of your contracts." Dana's smile was practically ear to ear.
"FUCK!" Chloe wasn't sure if confirming the existence of the contracts was against the rules or not, but she was sure that if she kept talking to Dana, another, worse slip up was going to happen. "Just get out of my face, Ward."
She shouldered past Dana and was about to open the door but was stopped by a hand on her shoulder.
"Come on, Chloe." Dana positioned herself between Chloe and the door. "You can't possibly believe that the psychics and supernaturals in there deserve to be treated so inhumanely, do you?"
A flash of the Max-like subject went through Chloe's mind. The sunken eyes, the bloody nose, the emaciated body. The worst part was seeing the pain in the subject's eyes when Chloe grew cold and exerted her authority.
"Something about it bothers you, doesn't it?" Dana prompted.
The irritation with Dana was enough to cut through Chloe's guilt. "Oh yeah? How do you know they're being treated inhumanely?"
For the first time, Dana faltered. It was visible for just a moment, in the fall of her smile and the widening of her eyes. That was enough to give Chloe a sense of triumph and satisfaction.
"I just.." Dana's smile didn't return, but it was replaced by a hardened look of determination. "I have reason to believe that some subjects are being abused."
Again, the starved look to the subject came back to the forefront of Chloe's mind.
Dana squeezed Chloe's shoulder. "You think so too, don't you?"
Flustered and frustrated, Chloe shrugged off Dana's hand and walked around her towards the door. "Just leave me alone, Dana. I just want my booze and my sleep. I'm done here."
As Chloe headed for her truck, Dana's voice followed.
"Google Baelfire Research Center!" Dana didn't go after Chloe, but still shouted after her. "If that doesn't convert you into siding with the supernaturals then I don't know what will."
Just before entering her truck, Chloe turned back to see Dana still standing outside the convenience store.
"Email me, Chloe!"
The appropriate response for this was a middle finger. Then Chloe got into her truck and drove home. Drinking time just couldn't come sooner. Although getting home did bring with it a reminder of how strained Mom was.
Shaking off the worries, Chloe focused on driving and occupied herself with thoughts of the bottle in the passenger's seat.
I have plans for quite a few of the cast and what roles they'll take on in this world, but I'm curious about who you're most excited to see as this story unfolds. Victoria perhaps? Kate? Let me know!
Also, the Baelfire thing is from my other story, Subject 204, but it's not necessary to read that. Chloe will eventually google it and it'll be revealed later on, and how it affects the Prescott facility
Keep your comments coming, friends. I love hearing your thoughts and it keeps me pumped to keep writing. I almost didn't update this week but then I figured, I might as well push myself a bit and try. Next week might be busy for me, but I'll still try to update.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Bottle under her arm, Chloe kicked the front door closed behind her and made her way up the stairs. Thoughts of Dana and Max-clone still swirled through Chloe's mind, filling her with conflicted feelings and jarring thoughts. Was Dana's crusade against facilities like the one Chloe worked for really going to work? Was she right? Did the subjects deserve to be treated better? And that Max-clone. How on earth could that possibly be Max?
Chloe was close to chugging straight out of the bottle right this moment, if only to chase away the nagging thoughts and plunge herself into the oblivion of a drunk stupor.
"Chloe? Is that you?"
And that right there was a reason not to start chugging in the hallway.
"Yeah, hang on. I'll be there in a sec." Chloe opened her bedroom door and left the bottle on the dresser before turning and going across the hall to Mom's room.
She was in the middle of standing up from bed, hand over her chest, a strained look on her pale face as she leaned against the bedside table.
"Mom, are you-"
"I'm fine!" The force in her mother's voice stopped Chloe in her tracks, but she kept her hands outstretched and her legs tensed, ready to spring into action if Mom's strength failed her. "I can handle myself."
Straightening up, Mom looked unsteady for a moment, but she recovered and leaned against the bedside table. "I'm fine." Her voice was softer now, almost as if she was trying to convince herself as much as her daughter.
"Are… are you sure?" Chloe let her hands hang down at her sides and straightened up herself. Still, she felt tense as she took in her mother's labored breathing and the way one of her hands was still over her chest. "If you're having your chest pains, I-"
"No." Mom interrupted with a shake of her head. "Tell me about your evening. David said you'd be working the night shift for your first week."
And that was still a source of resentment. Chloe bit back a retort and just nodded, stuffing her hands into her pockets. The action reminded her of the ID still clipped to her pants.
"How was it?"
"It was okay." Chloe considered telling her mother about the Max-looking subject but decided against it. There still remained the undeniable fact that Max was dead and had no way of surviving the accident. Chloe would also rather not sound like she was going crazy. On top of everything on her plate, she would rather not add hallucinations and delusions. Another trip to the psych ward was less than desirable.
Plus there really was no need to get Mom all riled up when she was still recovering.
"I patrolled both the upper and lower floors and I think that kinda impressed step-douche a little bit." Chloe added to her answer when she realized that Mom was hoping for more substance. "I also spent some time looking through the manuals again. Step-dick said he'll give me more notes to study on my next shift."
Chloe half-heartedly pumped a fist into the air and raised an eyebrow at her mother. "Yay, I guess?"
"That does sound like a 'yay'." Mom nodded, mirroring the action. An awkward, halfhearted laugh worked its way out of her. Chloe responded with an uncomfortable laugh of her own.
Then they let silence settle between them.
Itching for the drink waiting in her room but unwilling to leave Mom so abruptly, Chloe shifted her weight from one foot to the other and looked down on the floor.
"I'm proud of you, Chloe."
The ground seemed to tilt as Chloe felt her jaw drop. Blinking in surprise, she looked up and stared at her mother. "What?"
A more genuine laugh came out of Mom as she gestured for Chloe to come closer. "You heard me. Are you really fishing for me to say it again?"
Drawing closer to Mom, Chloe allowed herself to be pulled into an embrace, burying her face into her mother's shoulder. The warmth and contact felt like a comfort against the deeply buried sorrow, a source of strength amidst the turmoil.
Again, Chloe felt the urge to talk about the subject that looked like (or might even be) Max.
But still, she held her tongue and looked at her mother.
"I would appreciate you holding back on the disrespectful nicknames for David." Mom said, " But I do appreciate how you're making the effort to get on your feet."
Ignoring the former, Chloe instead smiled and responded to the latter. "Yeah. I mean it's still a shitty job, but it's better than nothing. At least I'm actually going to be earning soon." That was her consolation. At least for now.
Although at the back of her mind, she did feel guilty about the bottle of booze just in the next room. Mom would probably not be proud of that.
"Yeah. And I will be, too." Mom said, eyeing the papers on the dresser. Bills, most likely. A lot of them.
"Just focus on resting up and getting better?" Chloe squeezed her mother's shoulders. "Please?"
Rolling her eyes, Mom shooed Chloe away. "Honestly, you're worse than David. Go ahead on to your room and sleep or troll facebook or whatever it is you do. I'll be okay."
"Yes, but you rest and take it easy. Be good." Chloe used her best impression of a mom voice, earning a laugh and another shooing motion. With a wink, Chloe left her mother's room and headed into her own room, where the bottle was patiently waiting.
Closing and locking the door behind her, Chloe picked up her booze and moved to settle at her desk. There was already a glass there. It crossed Chloe's mind to wash it, but that just meant getting up and going to the bathroom and coming back into the room. A lot of effort she wasn't willing to go through when she was drained from the night shift.
Already, Max-clone's face and Dana's voice were swirling through Chloe's mind and fighting for attention.
Not to mention the fact that the Max-clone was making it overwhelmingly difficult to avoid thinking about the accident.
Chloe opened the bottle and poured some vodka into her glass. It was definitely more than just a shot, but fuck it. Sipping vodka from a glass didn't have to be blasphemy. And she was doing this alone so there was nobody to judge her but herself.
"Cheers." Chloe raised her glass to the two pictures she kept on her desk. The one Dad took of Chloe and Max in their pirate gear was getting dusty and would need some wiping one of these days. Next to it, the picture frame holding a shot of Rachel was probably still sticky from when Chloe spilled beer on it a few days ago. That could use some cleaning, too.
Sighing to herself, Chloe moved her gaze from the pictures to the glass. She tilted her head back and took a long sip that burned through her throat and made her cough. It was an uncomfortable tightness that went all the way down to her chest, making Chloe consider going to the kitchen to find some soda to mix with this shit.
But again, that took effort and Chloe wanted to be economical.
More prepared this time and telling herself to take smaller sips, Chloe tried again.
It still burned and it still made her throat constrict into itself, but it wasn't so bad this time.
With her third sip, Chloe considered googling Baelfire like Dana suggested. That was the facility with the massive breakout of its subjects. Other than that, Chloe couldn't recall much else about it other than the fact that it was a hot topic and it meant that the Prescotts were going to be very strict about the protocols in their own facility.
A fourth sip emptied the glass and Chloe poured herself another, this time going for a full glass instead of a half-assed attempt at pouring an estimated shot.
It crossed her mind that she hadn't eaten yet and her stomach was going to be holding little more than alcohol. The hangover tomorrow would be excruciating if she didn't eat or at least get some water.
Mulling over the pros and cons of heading down to the kitchen accompanied her fifth sip.
She still didn't want to bother with putting in more effort than necessary.
Chloe took several more sips as guilt started climbing its way to the surface. A hangover would make her very ineffective at her job. That would be a shame considering Mom just said she was proud of her daughter.
Groaning to herself, Chloe emptied her second glass and made her way to the door. It surprised her how unsteady she'd gotten from just two glasses.
She had to remind herself that the shit she was drinking was a good 40%, with no chaser or food whatsoever and she should probably stop after one more glass. Wobbling her way down the stairs, Chloe went for the cupboard and grabbed a box of cereal before taking a bowl and milk.
It was a meal that needed the least amount of effort and Chloe was all about economy of effort tonight.
Or… this morning, rather.
She sloppily poured the milk and cereal into the bowl before wiping spilled milk and eating spilled cereal. With her breakfast ready and the kitchen more or less cleaned of its mess, Chloe worked her way back up the stairs, going as slowly as possible to avoid spilling her breakfast. Or was it dinner since her body was going to sleep soon after being up all night?
Fucking night shift bodyclock was confusing as shit.
Chloe put her cereal down and locked her bedroom door once more. As she dug in to her food, she had to resist the urge to find out what it would be like if she poured some of the vodka into the bowl.
Still, she made sure to take sips of her third glass in between spoonsful of cereal. By the time both were emptied out, Chloe felt bloated and dizzy.
Clutching at her head, she forced herself off her chair. She pulled off the undershirt she wore beneath the uniform and pulled off the pants. Fuck sleepwear. Chloe was drunk and couldn't be bothered to figure out putting herself into a change of clothes.
She was about to throw herself into bed when her reflection caught her eye. Several strips of white colored her skin, reminders of the stitches and injuries she sustained from the accident. The worst of them had been all along her arm. Getting a full sleeve tattoo helped cover most of that up, but sometimes she found herself stopping and thinking about how the shards and debris flew by and how the asphalt skinned her.
Chloe tossed her shirt at the mirror before crawling into bed.
Heart pounding rapidly against her chest, Chloe had one hand gripping the back of her father's car seat while her other arm was wrapped around Max's bleeding form. It happened so suddenly, the blood just started flowing out of her. They were just standing in the hallway. The next thing Chloe knew, Dad was rushing Max into the car and driving to the nearest hospital.
Panic was rushing through Chloe as she struggled to breathe and at this point she wasn't sure if her face was damp from tears or sweat or even Max's blood.
"Chloe…" Max's voice was strained and soft. Her face was pale as she turned to look at Chloe and leaned into her. "I'm sorry."
"What d-" Chloe felt the car door open behind her and before she could regain her balance, Max's kick to the stomach sent Chloe tumbling out of the car. Rolling in the asphalt tore her skin open and she felt pain shoot up her wrist and her ribs.
Winded by the time she stopped rolling, Chloe found herself lying on her side, pain starting to settle over her body, the worst of it centered around her ribs, her wrist and the spots of skin torn up by the road.
Chloe's blood ran cold when she saw the tanker truck collide with Dad's car. An explosion sent shards, debris and sparks flying her way and all she could do was shield her face with her arm.
Wind whipped at her face and rain stung her eyes. Her jacket was drenched and clung to her skin, but not the weather, not the storm, not the rain or wind could make her feel more frozen in place than the words coming out in Chloe's braking voice.
"Wherever I end up after this, in whatever reality," Tears and rain coated Chloe's face in equal measure as she gripped Max by the shoulders. "All those moments between us were real, and they'll always be ours."
Pulling back, heart breaking, Max shook her head. All the things they went through came flashing through her mind, from the breakfast at the diner to the games in the junkyard and the walk on the train tracks to solving the mystery together to dealing with Frank together, to unfolding Jefferson's crimes together…
How could those just be erased from reality? Chloe felt love and friendship and laughter like she hadn't in years and Max couldn't bear to take that away from her all over again.
"No matter what you choose," Chloe continued, "I know you'll make the right decision."
"Chloe," Max heard the plea and the break in her own voice as her eyes stung more from tears than the elements. "I can't make this choice."
"No, Max." Chloe's had steadied herself now, her tone eerily calm. "You're the only one who can."
That butterfly. That fucking butterfly picture where this all started.
If Max went back now and decided to do nothing as Nathan threatened and ultimately shot Chloe, then what would that do to all these memories? What would that do to this love and friendship?
Chloe would die in a fucking bathroom floor. Alone. Angry. Unloved. Pained.
None of Max's memories would get to be Chloe's reality.
That hurt more than anything else. It tore at Max's chest and her heart felt tight and it was just pure agony to see Chloe there now, standing tall. She was willing to sacrifice herself to save a town who wrote her off as worthless and aimless. How could Max just let Chloe die without ever feeling the love and joy of the past few days?
But how could Max sacrifice the entirety of Arcadia Bay for one girl?
"No." Max grit her teeth. "There has to be another way."
Her whole life was full of different choices that led down different paths. There had to be a path where things would happen differently. There had to be a path where nobody had to die like this. There had to be another way.
"Max…" What calm had been in Chloe's voice was gone now as she drew closer. "I'm not worth this."
"There has to be another way." Max repeated, heart pounding heavily in her chest. She pulled out her phone. The screen was cracked but it still worked. If she could travel through polaroid snapshots, maybe she could do the same with a picture of a picture on her phone.
"What are you doing?" Chloe's eyes darted from the tornado, to Max and back.
"There has to be another choice, another path, another change I can make." Max opened the family picture they'd taken before leaving Arcadia Bay all those years ago. "I'm going to find it."
She focused into the picture, feeling the pounding in her head build up as she kept her eyes on the cracked screen, on the blurred and pixelated moment until she opened her eyes to find herself between her parents.
"Dad," The moment was hazy and Max could feel the storm pulling her back to her timeline, but she clung to her father's hand. "Please. Can't we stay?"
"Max, we've been through this." He raised an eyebrow. "I thought you were excited to meet new friends. Are you alright?"
"We have to stay!" Max felt all sense of composure crumble as she grasped her father's arms. "Please, Dad. We have to! I need us to."
Frowning, Dad shook his head. "Max, that's enough. We have to get going. Go and say goodbye to Chloe."
"I can't." Pain coursed through Max's head as the storm pulled her back and she found herself on her knees by the cliff side, in Chloe's arms.
"Max, we're running out of time." Chloe said. "You have to let it happen." She pressed the picture into Max's hands.
Shaking her head, Max returned her attention to her phone. "I need to try again. Nobody is going to die."
Nightmares were never fun.
They forced her to relive her worst memories and reminded her that no matter what she did or tried to do differently, it wasn't going to change reality. She was always going to wake up to this life and she was stuck trying to make it work somehow.
That and it sucked that having nightmares left Chloe in a reflective mood, thinking about her place (or lack thereof) in this world.
On some bad days she could almost wish that they found her too late. Then maybe she would finally be with Dad.
Dad and Max and Rachel.
But that of course meant leaving Mom behind with nothing but graves and painful memories. And Chloe knew she couldn't do that to her mother. Not when she tried so hard and worked so hard and now her body was paying the price for it.
With a sigh, Chloe pulled into the parking lot and got out of the car. Vibration in her pocket called her attention. She checked her phone to see a message from Dana.
"Have you googled Baelfire yet? Or even looked into articles about the fight for rights for the paranormals?"
Scoffing, Chloe closed the message, deciding that a seenzone was better than a cranky reply.
She had too many things on her mind to deal with anyway. There was no time to fret over another facility. Especially not one that royally fucked up with escaped subjects and an eventual shutdown. Chloe had a job to do and she was better off focusing her mind and energy on just getting this job done. No distractions or exceptions.
Another buzz from her phone showed a text from David.
"Still talking to the boss. Will talk to you after. Meet at lobby."
Reminding herself to be civil, she replied with a neutral "okay". Before finishing up changing into her uniform and proceeding to the lobby.
Of course, the universe refused to make things easy and painless for Chloe.
"Chloe Price." The drawling voice could only belong to one Victoria Chase, in the standard-issue intern coat worn over her fashionable blouse and skirt, strutting her way over. "Interesting to see you here."
"Do you still need help with your homework?" Chloe couldn't resist jabbing preemptively. "I could probably take a look at your notes for you. They might be too complicated for you."
Not one to be outdone, Victoria didn't hold back with her retaliation. "What about you, though? Your job description includes keeping us safe, right? Keeping us alive? How will that work when you can't even do that for yourself?"
Pain and a flash of memories rushed through Chloe. The pills. The drugs. The hospital. The questions. All the questions and all the tears.
It took all of Chloe's inner strength to resist throat punching the woman in front of her. That would be a one-way ticket to getting fired and probably blacklisted, too. They were pulling more than enough strings handing out this job when Chloe didn't have any credentials. Getting into a fight with an intern would ruin everything and David would have no way of saving Chloe's ass.
Not to mention the fact that Victoria would definitely press charges if Chloe got physical.
Clenching her jaw and lifting her head, Chloe forced herself to stand at attention and keep her eyes straight ahead.
"What's the matter, Price?" Victoria asked. "Not going to say anything witty?"
"Chloe!" David's booming voice echoed through the lobby. The several people also getting ready to leave or waiting for their ride home turned their heads to look at the source of the commotion. Chloe wanted nothing more than to melt into the floor at this point. "Stop harassing the intern and get over here."
"Yes, sir douche." Chloe grumbled to herself and stepped around Victoria, avoiding eye contact with her.
"What was that?" David barked.
Speaking through gritted teeth, Chloe stopped in front of her stepfather and looked up at him. "I said yes, sir."
This was looking like it would be another very long night.
As always, y'all leaving comments and reviews give me life. And you can also always hit me up on tumblr (stefi-delly or wolfdogonthemoon) to bug me for updates and feels and I might give you excerpts or previews.
It's been way way waaay too long since the last update. I apologize for that. I'm not super sure if I can maintain an update schedule considering I'm juggling another project plus the main fic that this spins off from is still not yet done and lol I feel bad about that but am having trouble getting myself to get on it.
Also, I understand that given the heavy content of this story and how intense it has the potential to be, I totally understand if you need to step out and don't think you can stomach continuing to read. That's okay and that's fine. It's better to be safe and avoid your triggers than let me screw things up for you.
I really just want to explore some heavy themes and challenge the characters to find that strength and that center to keep going despite having all the odds stacked against them, plagued by inner and outer demons. I guess it helps me cope and keep going as well, and I figure it helps other people maybe?
Anyway.. yeah. I've rambled enough. Without further chatter from me, here's chapter five at last.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
"So you've been performing well so far." David said, his hands stiff at his sides. "I'll give you another two or three weeks of night shift before moving you to the day to guard the interns when they interact with some of the subjects."
Chloe looked up at that, a burst of excitement coursing through her at the thought of actually being part of the facility activities during the day.
Of course David could read the excitement on Chloe's face and of course had to squash it. "You won't be allowed to handle the subjects yet. And you are not to speak to the interns or the scientists unless spoken to. You'll just be in the room with them during some of their tests."
"Wait, if I can't touch the subject but I'm supposed to guard the interns in the room with them," Chloe's brow furrowed as she looked up at her stepfather. "How am I supposed to react if one of the subjects goes berserk?"
"We'll be training you for that. For now your job is mostly to observe." David said, "But prepare for more intensive training next week. And also try to hit the gym this weekend. You're required to be in peak physical condition."
"Buff up this weekend. Got it." Chloe rolled her eyes, not willing to waste her weekend in a gym but also not willing to lose this job just because she didn't fit their requirements. "Anything else?"
David's drill sergeant stance faltered for a moment and he spoke in a softer voice. "Please do something about your hair. It's against regulations and I won't be able to cover for you when more people see you as you move to the day shift."
Chewing on her bottom lip, Chloe looked away from David.
The blue hair was her thing. It started with punk teenage rebellion and just grew into her look. Then there were those two or so years when she wasn't allowed to dye her hair. Now, it was about autonomy. She had her body and her freedom again and she expressed that with her hair.
Dyeing her hair helped her feel like she had control of herself. Like she had something in her life that she could take charge of and manipulate without any real damage to anyone. She could ground herself by finding solace in this one thing. Especially when more of then than not, she felt like the universe was out to get her.
It was hard to verbalize her thoughts and step douche just wouldn't understand.
"Chloe?" David prompted, voice strained.
"Fine." Chloe grumbled. "I'll dye it back to blond this weekend."
"Good." After a pause, he added, "Thanks."
She didn't look at him. None of this was for him anyway.
The tension wasn't invisible to David and Chloe took some pleasure in the way he squirmed uncomfortably before eventually dismissing her. "You can start on your patrol rounds now. There's a folder in the guard's station. I printed out some files for you to study. About the company and some more policies when interacting with subjects. Study that. I'll drill you on it next week, when we focus on more of your training."
Chloe nodded to show she heard him. He was about to turn and leave but stopped and seemed to hesitate for a moment.
"Chloe?" His voice was uncharacteristically soft again and it unnerved Chloe. "One more thing." When he made eye contact with her, there was a seriousness to them that scared her.
Relying on her defense mechanism, Chloe used her most impatient tone and even threw in an eye roll. "What?"
David's jaw tensed and relaxed a few times almost like he was chewing on whatever he was going to say. Chloe stopped herself from telling him to spit it out.
Finally, he said, "Let's put aside time to go through the subjects together. There's… there's one that concerns me and we may have to… discuss her case."
Taken aback, Chloe's eyes widened and she felt her hands drop to her sides. "Wh… what?"
"Well... maybe two subjects, actually." David shook his head. "Let's talk about it on Monday." He made an awkward nod to signal the end of the conversation, then walked away.
"What?" Chloe whispered to herself.
Did David know something about the Max-looking subject? Did he and his creepy tendency to play detective mean he dug something up about her? Dug something up about this place? Dana would want to know if there was some big conspiracy David managed to uncover and-
Shaking her head, Chloe snapped herself out of it. She was going down the conspiracy theory train and sounding way too much like her dear old stepdad. Chloe cringed at the very idea.
She had work to do. She had to concentrate. Chloe took in a deep breath and got herself ready for her rounds.
Even if the Max-looking subject nagged at Chloe's mind, she resisted the urge to go there right away. It was a bad idea, especially considering the turmoil still churning through Chloe at the very thought of that subject. And David's ominous words weren't helping either.
Instead, Chloe focused on thoroughly making her rounds as majority of the scientists and interns packed up and went home. For every empty office, lab, research room or conference room, Chloe made sure to follow the protocols for turning off electronics that were supposed to be turned off, locking up doors that were supposed to be locked up.
There were a few assistants and interns she came across. They paid her no mind as she passed by. One asked her not to close up the lab he was working on just yet, since he was just going to grab a snack.
A couple of hours had passed and Chloe's legs were sore from walking. But she was running out of reasons to stop herself from going down to check on Max-looking Subject again.
Chronikinetic. Time manipulation.
That's what her file said. And it warned about being very careful when dealing with her. Experiencing déjà vu was a sign that the subject was using her powers and posing a threat.
The problem wasn't that Chloe felt like she was experiencing déjà vu. She felt like she was experiencing hallucinations. Or delusions. Or just seriously questioning reality.
Did that count? Was it worth mentioning to David or to one of the scientists?
"That fucking subject has really gotten into your head, Price." Chloe muttered to herself as the elevator doors opened to the floor that looked more like it held prison cells than anything else. She walked along the doors on the left side, looking at the labels until she came across the one that read Subject 219.
Chloe hesitated at the door, fidgeted with her flashlight.
"What am I doing?" She asked herself. She was obsessing over a subject in a facility that studied and experimented on weird stuff. Of course this subject was weird and could do something as weird as look almost exactly like Max. There was no need to get so worked up about it.
But Chloe couldn't help it.
She approached the door and pointed her flashlight in through the small window.
The subject was lying on her bed but once the flash light was pointed at her, she scrambled onto her feet and put her hands behind her head.
And Chloe could see fresh bruises on her arms and face, even a cut on her lip.
Realizing she was blinding the subject again, Chloe angled the flashlight downwards.
The subject maintained the position at first, squinting and blinking as her eyes adjusted. Then she brought her arms down when recognition dawned on her. "Chloe?"
"How do you know my name?" Chloe asked. The only name on her uniform was PRICE. Unless the subject was a mindreader or somehow using her powers to get information out of Chloe, how was it possible? The subject shouldn't even be able to use her powers. The blocker cuffs were activated.
None of this was making any sense.
"It's me… It's Max." The subject moved with a limp and a weary hunch to her shoulders, leaning against the wall as she made her way to the door. "I don't… I don't know how to convince you to believe me."
"Damn right." Chloe was surprised by how harsh her own words were, but she was so on the edge around this subject and her eerily familiar face that being antagonistic and snarky helped maintain distance.
That was Chloe's go-to move, after all, when she wanted to push people and emotions as far away as possible.
Because otherwise, Chloe would have to accept that this was really Max. Way too many signs were pointing to it.
But that was still something Chloe would rather not accept.
"I just…" The subject sighed, "I just want to say that I'm sorry. I'm sorry I messed up so much. I tried so hard to save everyone but I…" She shook her head and pressed her forehead against the glass. Her voice was soft and Chloe had to strain to hear it. "…I couldn't save everyone. I'm sorry I couldn't save your father."
Memories of the crash came barrellng through Chloe once more. She shook her head to block them out, but they came back so vividly, she had to lean against the door and press a hand against her chest, over her panicking heart.
"For what it's worth…" Max -no, not Max. The subject- continued to speak. "…it's good to see you alive. It's… it's good to see you at all."
"What are you doing to me?" Chloe gasped, struggling to get enough air into her lungs as the memories threatened to drown her. It felt like water in her throat, in her chest, choking her as she felt the kick to the stomach, the impact on the unforgiving road, the explosion, the funerals.
Chloe slammed a palm against the glass, causing the subject to flinch backwards. "And what the fuck are you talking about? Me being alive? How do you know about that? You can't know about that!"
The subject's furrowed brow was thrown into deep shadows in the light of the flashlight. It made her bruises stand out and filled Chloe with guilt at the way she was treating this girl.
"Chloe… what do you mean?" The subject said, "I… I moved through every timeline to find a way to keep you alive. Find a different path that wouldn't lead to… to you dying."
Slamming her palm against the glass once more, Chloe glared at the subject. "What, so it was your fault, then? You're the reason why I didn't succeed?"
"Chloe…" The subject's piercing eyes showed confusion and concern now. She hugged herself, rubbing her thumbs over her arms. "I'm not sure I understand what you're talking about."
"Don't you?" Chloe was about to hit the glass again but managed to stop herself. She stepped away from the door, tried to focus on her breathing, tried not to think about anything but the flashlight in her hand. She held it tightly, focused on how it felt against her palm and fingers, the slight weight of it pulling at her arm.
"Please, Chloe…" The subject was pressing her hands against the glass once more, her eyes pained, as if she wanted to reach out and offer a comforting hand. "I'm sorry…Whatever I did, whatever changes I made to your life, whoever I became in your memories… I'm sorry."
Focusing on breathing in and out, Chloe managed to keep her gaze on the subject, focusing on those eyes. They were tearing up again.
The subject's voice broke, growing unsteady and breathy as she continued, "Most of all, I'm sorry for leaving your life when you needed me the most. Again and again and again. I'm so, so sorry."
"I just…" Chloe sore jaw told her she was gritting her teeth again. Forcing it to relax, she said, "I just can't believe you could really be Max when I know that nobody survived that accident but me. And I only survived because…"
She rubbed at the back of her neck and looked away. The memories threatened to come flooding back, but she managed to keep them from drowning her. "I only survived because you pushed me out of the car. Right before… right before it happened."
Chloe was in too deep now, legit saying you instead of she when referring to Max.
"I couldn't let you die…" The subject said. "I really don't know how I can convince you that it's me… but it is me."
"What do you want from me?"
A sad, bittersweet smile didn't reach the subject's eyes. "Knowing that you're alive and well is enough for me."
"Well… I'm barely either of those." Chloe scuffed the floor with her boot. "I almost wasn't either of those."
"Chloe, did you-"
"New kid! Hey!" An echoing male voice preceded a whistle that made Chloe wince. "Price! Step away from there!"
A tall, heavily built guard came stomping over. He practically shoved Chloe away from the door before inspecting it. Once he was satisfied that everything was in order, he turned to Chloe. "What the hell were you doing?"
"Nothing." Chloe grit her teeth to keep herself from snarking back when she wanted nothing more than to rip into him. She needed this job and lashing out at coworkers would only threaten her position.
"Be careful with this one, Price. She's crafty as fuck." He turned back towards the door, banging a large fist against it. "Back to bed, 219!"
It looked like the subject didn't follow orders immediately, because the guard got riled up in an instant.
"Hey! If you're not in your bed in two seconds, I'm going in there to cuff you to it myself!" When he started to raise his voice, Chloe realized she recognized the asshole from when he used to talk to other kids in pretty much the same way. It was Zachary Riggins. "One!"
Everything about this felt wrong. "TWO!"
Chloe thought she heard the creak of the bed.
"Good." Riggins seemed satisfied then, nodding at the window before returning his attention to Chloe.
"You don't have to be so damn forceful with them." Chloe couldn't resist calling him out now.
Rolling his eyes, Riggins gave Chloe a dismissive wave. "Just get your ass moving along or I'll tell your stepdad about how you broke regulations."
Fuming, it took every ounce of willpower to calmly turn around and walk away.
Chloe couldn't, however, resist raising a middle finger before she rounded the corner.
"We're running out of time!" Chloe's had to scream over the building wind and rain. "You have to go back and let it happen. I'm not worth this! My mom deserves better than to die in that fucking diner, Max, please!"
"Nobody is going to die!" Max insisted, trying to put conviction in her voice but it was weak and soft, her head pounding. She was still reeling from travelling through the picture, but she had to try again. There had to be another way.
Ignoring Chloe's pleas, Max focused back into the picture, ignoring the sharp jabs of pain slicing through her skull as she forced herself through time and space to get back into that place, that time, that universe.
She felt the pull.
The rain eased. The sun was up. The wind was calm.
"We have to get going. Go and say goodbye to Chloe."
Max had to steady herself against Dad's car, subtly wiping her nose on her hand to check if it was bleeding. Thankfully, it wasn't. Yet.
There was sadness in Chloe's eyes as she handed the camera back to Max. "I hope the picture came out okay."
"Chloe, listen." Holding the camera in one hand, Max gripped Chloe's arm with the other. "There's something very important I need to tell you."
Chloe's brow furrowed. "What is it? You're kind of creeping me out, Max."
"Listen. You and I are going to have trouble keeping in touch. That's when you're going to meet a girl. Rachel Amber." Max ignored the mixture of confusion and fear taking over Chloe's face. If there was any way to change the fate of Rachel and maybe by extension, the fate of Chloe, then maybe things would play out differently. Maybe Nathan and Jefferson wouldn't claim them as their latest targets. And Nathan wouldn't be in that bathroom to confront Chloe.
It was a lot of maybe's. It was a longshot.
But it was better than nothing. Better than choosing between Chloe and Arcadia Bay.
"Take care of her. Take care of Rachel. Don't let her near the photography teacher. Mark Jefferson. He's dangerous. And be careful with Nathan Prescott."
The headache was getting worse and Max could feel the storm pulling her back.
"Be careful." Max begged, just as she felt herself starting to fade away. Before she could go completely, she pulled Chloe in for a hug. Max held her tightly, wishing the action could erase all the pain their distance was going to create.
Praying that this time, it wasn't going to end in tragedy.
After the infuriating encounter with Riggins, Chloe made herself busy with patrolling the different floors and really committing the layout to memory, making sure she knew every section as intimately as her tattoos. It helped to keep her mind busy, but by the time her shift ended, Chloe's thoughts were once again back to Max and how she was in such terrible shape.
It crossed her mind to pass by the convenience store again but Chloe recalled she still had a good half a bottle or so of hard booze in her room. That should be enough to get her through the night.
Get her through the day.
Fuck the night shift.
Chloe sighed as she pulled up into the driveway of her mother's house. With any luck, Mom may still be asleep. As nice as it was to have brief moments of mother-daughter bonding, Chloe felt both too drained to engage and too pent up to avoid venting about everything that felt wrong about PRIPS.
With the truck grumbling to halt, Chloe got out and closed the door as quietly as she could.
Even if it probably wouldn't make much of a difference considering the noisy engine already announced her presence.
Mentally preparing herself, Chloe sucked in a breath and entered the house.
Main hallway deserted, no sounds from the kitchen or the living room. So far so good.
Walking lightly on her feet, Chloe made her way to the kitchen, grabbed a couple of granola bars. No movement in the bedroom, no sound of any opening doors. Still quiet. Still all clear.
"Are you really having that for breakfast?"
Chloe's heart skipped a beat as she spun around to find Mom at the kitchen doorway. She was still pale, with bags under her eyes and a hollowness to her cheeks that Chloe still couldn't get used to.
Even with the strain of her condition, Mom managed to put on a stern expression, eyebrow raised, hand on her hip. "Chloe? Really?"
"Mom, it's fine. I'm not hungry." It was hard to have much of an appetite, knowing at least one subject in there was beaten and starving. "I'll just eat something bigger when I wake up."
"I could cook you something,"
"No, don't worry about it." Chloe shook her head and tried to keep her voice even. The doctors stressed the importance of taking things slow and avoiding stress and strenuous activity. Admittedly, cooking wasn't as intense as running or arguing. But Chloe didn't want to take any chances. "I'll be fine. I'm just tired and want something easy to eat."
Mom's stern expression melted into crestfallen. She swallowed and looked away. "If you say so…"
"I'm okay." Chloe lied, but already sensing that Mom knew something was wrong. "Really. I'm okay."
"Just… please don't forget to take care of yourself..." Mom forced a stiff smile. "Okay?"
Chloe nodded. "Got it."
Mom left the kitchen, muttering words Chloe strained to hear. And when she did, she wished she hadn't. "Because I don't know how much longer I can."
Frustration and pain burned through Chloe like fire coursing through her veins. She waited to hear Mom's door close before slamming her fists against the kitchen countertop. It was a hard enough surface, able to absorb the blows without making much noise. The only noticeable sounds that came with each blow were the rattled jars nearby.
The universe was just out to ruin everything.
As she pounded against the countertop again, ignoring the pain that throbbed through her hands, Chloe reminded herself that the universe wasn't working alone to make Mom so sick. Chloe played her part. Chloe was the one going through shit and coping badly with shit and acting like a little shit and putting Mom through shit.
It wasn't Mom's fault that her body couldn't take the stress of dealing with a daughter who just phenomenally sucked at living through life.
Releasing a shaky sigh, Chloe stepped away from the counter and let her hands hang at her sides. Her eyes were warming up, her vision was blurring, her breathing was unsteady, her heart was pounding and her hands were trembling.
She felt pent up and ready to explode.
Breathe. She told herself. Just breathe.
Chloe sucked in a breath, held it as long as she could, then let it out slowly. The trembling was going through her whole body now and her legs were unsteady. She took another several breaths, working her way towards having enough control over her body to get to the safety and privacy of her room.
Still focusing on her breathing, Chloe made her way up the stairs and finally to her room. She was about to collapse onto the bed when the buzzing in her pocket caught her attention.
Fishing her phone out, Chloe saw a call from Dana.
Through bleary eyes, Chloe pressed the red blur.
"Fuck." Thanks, universe. It just had to make sure Chloe didn't miss this call.
"Hello to you, too." Dana said, taking the coldness in stride. "Look, I may have been a bit too forward last we saw each other, and I can understand your suspicions. I kind of just…" She paused, and Chloe held her breath, hoping Dana wasn't going to hear the uneven breathing and disgusting sniffles. "I want to clarify that I'm really not in this for the money or the fame of breaking a big story. I'm genuinely worried about the people being detained there. I mean you grew up here, you know as well as I do that the Prescotts have a little too much control over the town for it to be healthy."
Chloe swallowed and bit her lip. Why she couldn't just hang up on Dana was a mystery even to Chloe. It would be so easy to just end the call and maybe even block the number.
"Look. Something wrong is going on there. You don't think things are all that right in there, do you?"
"I'm worried about a girl there." Chloe blurted out the words before she could stop herself. From there, it all just came rushing out. "I'm scared and confused and it's fucking with my head. The girl there looks like someone I knew when I was a kid and it's fucking me up because the last time I saw her, she was bleeding to death in my dad's fucking car just before a fucking truck totaled it."
"Chloe…" For once, Dana didn't have a response at hand.
"I went to her funeral, Dana. I don't understand how she's alive. And in there."
"Was it…" Dana started to regain her ability to speak. "Was it a closed casket funeral or… or did you ever see a body?"
"I… It…" Chloe shook her head and pressed a hand against her face. "I didn't see a body, but I did see an explosion and I'm the only one that got out of it alive because she pushed me out of the damn car right before impact."
The sight of blood pooling over Max's stomach was still burned into Chloe's mind.
"And even if the explosion didn't get her, she was already bleeding before the crash."
"Why was she bleeding?"
"We don't know why. She just was. It was like a bullet wound or something." Chloe could still remember how sudden it was and how Dad acted quickly while Chloe stood frozen to the spot. "We were rushing her to the hospital when the crash happened."
"But if someone who looks like your friend is in that facility, then there's a high chance it is her." Dana said, her tone getting way too excited for Chloe's liking. "They probably covered it all up or something. If she pushed you out of the car before the crash, she must have known it was going to happen. And that's why she's in the facility now."
"Her file says she's chronokinetic and-" Chloe stopped herself.
What the fuck was she doing? She was jeopardizing her job. This job was important and keeping it meant giving Mom an easier time.
"Fuck." Chloe clenched her fist. "Fuck. Dana, forget we had this call. I can't risk losing this job. Get off my case."
"Is keeping a job more important than freeing someone from abuse?" Dana said the words that tore through Chloe's rationalizations. "More important than someone you care about?"
Chloe was silent.
"It's Max, isn't it?" Dana asked.
Gritting her teeth, Chloe closed her eyes and leaned against the wall. "Yeah…" Her voice was gravelly and soft. She cleared her throat and tried again. "Yeah. Max. We buried her nine years ago."
"Can we meet up?" Dana asked.
The bruises on Max were heartbreaking and it was putting Chloe's head through twists and turns to accept that the subject really was Max. But if that was Max and she was being starved and beaten and experimented on… then… then Chloe had to do something.
Max saved Chloe's life nine years ago.
Now… Chloe was going to have to do the same for her.
"Yeah." Still holding reservations but no longer able to fight the guilt and worry and turmoil, Chloe hardened her resolve. "Yeah, let's figure something out."
Arcadia Bay was… whole.
It was as if the storm had never come to pass. The sun was shining, the sky was blue, the grass was green and the town just felt so… alive.
Was Chloe alive?
Chest growing tight, Max looked around the lighthouse but saw no sign of her. Even the footprints and disturbed soil looked like they had only come from Max.
"Chloe?" Max called, jogging over to the bench, hoping to catch a glimpse of her, only to find none. Looking around, Max tried again, shouting louder this time. "CHLOE!"
When only the chirp of birds and the chatter of squirrels answered her, Max was forced to accept that Chloe wasn't here.
A blue butterfly fluttered over and landed on the bench. Its wings sparkled in the light, glinting like sapphire.
Could Chloe be in the bathroom of Blackwell?
If not, Max could check the Price household.
Resolving to find Chloe and find out what changed in this timeline, Max ran down the path, ignoring the unsteadiness of her tired legs and the heavy pull of exhaustion after what felt like an eternity of being awake and under stress.
The run was bringing the headache back and Max knew there was no way she was going to run all the way to Blackwell Academy from here.
But she had to get to Blackwell somehow.
She had to find out what happened to Chloe.
As she neared the main road, a newspaper caught Max's eye. She came to a clumsy stop, stumbling over and pressing her palms against her knees so she could hang her head and catch her breath.
The headache was getting worse. She felt like the world around her was spinning.
She really needed to rest.
Rubbing her palms over her sweaty face, Max flopped down to sit on the grass and pick up the discarded newspaper.
The headline read: BLACKWELL PHOTOGRAPHY TEACHER ARRESTED
It was under a picture of Jefferson being arrested and marched out of Blackwell's main hall.
Max's blood ran cold when she saw the subheading.
TWO STUDENTS SHOT DEAD
"No." Max shook her head as her throat started to close up. "No, no, no."
With trembling hands, Max brought the discarded newspaper closer. It named the two students as Rachel Amber and… and Chloe Price.
The story of Chloe Price and Rachel Amber is a tragic one. They were found in a bunker with bullets between their eyes. Police were directed to the bunker as a result of Nathan Prescott's confession. He has not been available for comment, but limited information provided by police say that he was confronted by Ms. Price moments before she entered the bunker, allegedly to save her friend Rachel Amber. A phone call took place between Price and Prescott, however the full scope of said call has yet to be released.
In the bunker, which has been revealed to be owned by the Prescott family, Mark Jefferson, photography teacher at Blackwell Academy, would drug young women for the purpose of taking dark and disturbing photographs. Some rumors indicate that some of his chosen targets have alleged psychic abilities but that has yet to be proven or disproven. Some paperwork in Jefferson's possession indicate an interest in the paranormal.
Rachel Amber was Jefferson's latest target and Price's reckless attempt at heroics resulted in both their deaths. Police arrived on the scene not long after Jefferson shot both Amber and Price.
Eyewitnesses have stated that there was tension between Price and Jefferson ever since he first came to teach at Blackwell.
"Kari was always so suspicious of him, even downright rude to him." A student who chose to remain anonymous spoke of a Kari Price, which one can assume is a mispronunciation of Chloe Price's name. "Although admittedly, she's rude to everyone. But there was just something about how she reacted to Mr. Jefferson that was more… paranoid than usual. It's crazy that she was actually right."
A few other students and one teacher can confirm that there were several incidents of conflict between Price and Jefferson.
On top of that, police have found pictures and notes in Price's bedroom, indicating that she and Amber were conducting a crude amateur investigation of Jefferson.
Trembling, Max couldn't get herself to continue reading.
By the way, I more or less have a personal rule/challenge to refrain from labeling flashbacks, kinda just trusting the reader and my storytelling to make it clear that a particular scene is happening in a different timeline or a different location. Let me know though if there are points where it's not clear.
I'M BACK MY FRIENDS!
To preface, I'm gonna just say that I'm sorry for the looooong wait. A lot of things happened in the past couple of months. January I flew over to visit my lady for our fourth anniversary. January and Feb were focused on working on a new comic together with my friend. March... I got dumped. And it sucked like HELL. April was the launch of the comic so I was mostly focused on that. Then I wanted to wrap up my other fic (the one this spins off from) before really focusing on this.
AND NOW I CAN PUT MORE ATTENTION TO THIS. (On top of day job and the comic of course. But yeah. I thiiink I should be able to update this more often if y'all are still willing to read it)
Again, I'm sorry for the wait, but I'm back now and I think I have a more solid idea for the foundation of this story. As for where it'll go, I'm not completely sure yet but it's... taking shape. Gradually. Anywayyyy enjoy!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Fire from the explosion heated up her face. Shards and debris protruded from her arm. Pain radiated around her twisted wrist and blood seeped from her skin.
Dad was calling her name.
His voice was coming from all around her.
That didn't make sense. His voice was coming from right in front of her but she had just seen his car completely totaled by the tanker.
"Dad?" Chloe felt her voice come out gravelly and barely audible.
"Chloe, wake up already!"
Eyes snapping open, Chloe scrambled up into a sitting position. "Jesus. Fuck." She did not just say Dad out loud to stepdouche, did she? Fuck. Shit. Fuck.
"It's noon." David's tone was gruff as he drew the curtains and opened the lights. "And we agreed you'd go to the gym this weekend."
"I don't remember agreeing to that." Groaning, Chloe rolled onto her stomach and hid her head under her pillow. Noon meant she hardly had any sleep yet. A Saturday of sleep was higher up on Chloe's list of priorities than working out.
The pillow was yanked out of Chloe's grasp. "You agreed to buff up this weekend." Using Chloe's own words against her, David kept the pillow out of reach when she tried to snatch it back. "And I think I should go with you."
"But why?" Chloe tried to glare at David but it didn't feel particularly convincing when her eyes were still bleary.
"For one thing, to make sure you actually do something other than sit around looking at your phone." David said, "For another, it's so I can teach you your first technique for how to handle a difficult subject."
Rubbing at her eyes, Chloe groaned again.
She wanted to snap at him and throw in some verbal jabs, but it was too damn early and Chloe's brain wasn't fully functioning yet.
Not to mention the fact that Mom was probably going to find out if Chloe was too hard on stepdouche.
"Fine." Chloe sighed.
As her mind started to focus in on the breakdown just a few hours ago, Chloe added, "But I'm going somewhere at five."
David raised an eyebrow. "Where to?"
"Jeez, get off my case." Chloe forced herself out of bed and approached her closet, refusing to look at David. "And get out of my room while you're at it."
"You're not going to some bar, are you?"
"It's fucking coffee!" Chloe turned to face him. "I'm meeting some friend from Blackwell for coffee. Just fuck off, okay?"
David stood his ground, folding his arms across his chest. "The poorly hidden bottles of alcohol in this room give me reason to doubt that." He looked towards the door before lowering his voice, whispering biting words through gritted teeth. "You can't do this to your mother again."
The barbed words hit Chloe hard, piercing her and making her legs buckle. She leaned against the wall to steady herself. Heat rushed to her eyes and a lump formed in her throat.
Shaking her head, Chloe kept her eyes on the ground. "I'm… I'm not." The protest came off soft and broken.
"The only reason I haven't told her about the bottles I find in your room or in the trash is-"
"I know!" Chloe shouted the words before catching herself and lowering her voice. "I know. I got it. Just… just let me figure this out."
David arms dropped to his sides and he sighed. For a moment, he looked less rough and hard, more old and tired. "Just think about her. I know you don't give a shit about me, but think about her."
"I know." Chloe returned her gaze to the floor, blinking and wishing her eyes would stop watering and her throat would stop tightening up. "I know."
With heavy footsteps, David headed for the door. "If you say your meetup is just for coffee, then I'm going to believe you for now."
Surprised, Chloe looked up.
David's eyes locked on hers. "But if I find out that you're at a bar or in some alley getting your hands on drugs, then we are going to be having a very difficult conversation with your mother and your therapist."
"You have twenty minutes to get ready. I'll meet you in the car."
Staring up at the ceiling, Max tried to close her eyes, but every time she did, she saw Chloe and how broken she looked. There was a hollowness to her, hidden under the tough front she was so fond of putting forth. In her eyes there was pain. Especially when she brought up the crash.
The crash that happened in one of the last realities Max was part of. The crash that took William away from Chloe. The crash that took everything away from Chloe.
But where could Rachel be? How did she fit into all of this? Where was she in this universe? Could she still have made a connection with Chloe and eased her pain? At least for a while?
Still, the worst of it all was knowing that Chloe had been so utterly broken by this universe that it sounded like she actively tried to remove herself from it. Somehow, she failed, somehow she was still alive. Somehow, she was still here and now.
For that, Max was grateful.
And yet, it was painful to see Chloe still so broken and unhappy.
And there was nothing Max could do about it. Max was a prisoner here. A number hanging from her door and a number stitched to the chest of her flimsy gown. A test subject with no name or agency. Just a number and a pair of glowing cuffs.
The sound of the door swinging open startled Max, but she was quick to move into position, facing the wall and putting her hands behind her back. A hand roughly grasped her shoulder and pressed her against the wall, pinning her still as her ability-blocking cuffs were chained together. It was "for extra security" as they'd once told her several years ago.
That may be part of it, but it also just felt like a painful reminder of how impossible it would be to even attempt an escape. They had all the cards and all the control. Max was merely their property.
"Move, 219." The hand on her shoulder pulled her away from the wall and shoved her forwards. She stumbled but was able to regain her footing and walk forward, through the cell door and down the hallway, surrounded by armed guards.
They were marching her along faster than they normally would and the urgency with which she was brought into the testing room was actually starting to make Max more nervous than was usual. She almost stumbled again when she was jostled towards the usual chair and the way they wrenched her hands into place on the armrests made her shoulders burn.
Assistants put the scanners all over her head in such a hurry, Max felt like they'd yanked out clumps of her hair in the process.
"Would it kill you to be a little gentler?" Max hissed as she felt another tug at her hair.
"Too much of that hair is in the way." The assistant grumbled as he roughly put more scanners into place.
"Perhaps we should consider giving you another shave." Dr. Jefferson glanced her way. "It's been far too long since your last one."
Max clenched her jaw to bite back any retorts. The last time they'd shaved her head to be able to put in scanners was probably several months ago, considering how much longer her hair was now. It shouldn't be a big deal, but it felt like something she wished she could hang on to.
After they took away everything from her… after they took away her agency, her name, her very sense of humanity, the least she could be allowed to keep was some hair.
But begging would get her nowhere, so silence was the best response she could give.
Raising an eyebrow at her, Dr. Jefferson seemed to notice the lack of response, before he turned to face the monitors.
"I'd like to direct your attention to the screen, 219."
It was a news report of a roadside accident. Two vehicles collided at an intersection. One of them looked like a minivan. The report talked of there being people who died of their injuries because authorities failed to arrive on time.
Seeing the destroyed cars reminded Max of the accident with William.
Closing her eyes, she kept her head down. "I don't want to see this." Her voice shook and she tried to swallow away the tightness in her throat.
"You have to see this, 219." Dr. Jefferson's voice came from uncomfortably close and as Max's eyes snapped open she felt fingers grasp her clumped hair in a tight fist. He tilted her head up, forcing her to look at him. "Because you're going to be doing something interesting for me."
Words like that were never a good sign.
Despite her discomfort, Max hardened her glare and bared her teeth. "And what would that be?"
"I want you to wind back time to before the accident so we can send an emergency response unit there on time or earlier."
"This isn't a time for jokes, 219. I'm serious." Dr. Jefferson let go of her hair and gestured to the other staff. "We're trying to save lives here. We want to make some good use of those abilities of yours."
It felt like the storm all over again. They had forced her to wind back and freeze time to ensure there would be no loss of life, but such a feat had taken a great toll on Max. It was days before she came to and probably weeks before the headaches subsided and she regained any semblance of use of her powers.
Since then, they stuck to minor tests.
This didn't exactly classify as a minor test.
"But that means winding back really far." Max said, this time trying to sound as cooperative as possible. The warning way the guards held their batons and prods reminded her of the futility of fighting. "How long ago did the accident happen?"
"Roughly an hour." Dr. Jefferson answered. "We've made further modifications to our technologies. You should be able to reverse time without much interference from the cuffs as long as you're in this room."
Max didn't feel ready for the pain such an effort would cause, but it wasn't like she had much of a choice.
Gritting her teeth, she looked down at her hands. The cuffs were red now. Deactivated.
"Okay." The headache started as a dull throb, at first an annoyance at the back of her skull. It grew into a painful pounding through her temples and a stabbing agony through the forehead, right between the eyes.
From the monitors, she could see movement as the crowd around the accident dispersed.
The pain was reaching a level that made her want to tear her own hair out.
Smoke billowing from the accident retreated back into the car hoods just before the cars started to inch away from each other.
It was becoming unbearable. Her skull was caving into itself and her brain was going to explode.
She just had to hold on.
Dr. Jefferson was speaking into a radio. A specialized vehicle with the PRIPS logo was already making its way to the scene.
It was agony.
The room was fading in and out of focus. Darkness was eating at the edges of her vision.
Just as she felt the world slipping away, Max saw Dr. Jefferson's lips moving along to words that sounded far too distant to actually be spoken right in front of her.
"Well done, 219."
The workout session with David was admittedly not as bad as Chloe feared it would be. Running on the treadmill sucked of course. The breathlessness was not fun. Lifting a few weights was okay and Chloe found herself liking the idea of earning some guns if she kept it up.
After that, David showed her a few simple techniques to redirect a blow before restraining an attacker. Doing them with David was awkward, but once Chloe got past the initial discomfort of it, she kind of enjoyed it.
Chloe wasn't ready to admit she enjoyed any kind of time spent with stepdick.
Rubbing her shoulders and stiffly walking into the coffeeshop, Chloe couldn't help but wonder how she was going to be able to survive tomorrow when she was already feeling sore as fuck as early as now.
"Chloe!" The voice that Chloe was begrudgingly starting to consider as familiar came from the sofa seats further down. "Over here!"
Catching sight of Dana and her auburn hair high in its usual ponytail, Chloe approached her, only to be caught off guard to see Juliet Watson next to her.
"What's she doing here?" Chloe demanded, this time not hesitating to use her most biting tone.
"Chloe, it's okay." Dana lifted her palms in a placating gesture as she stood up. "She's working on the PRIPS case with me. We're developing our reports together. She's the one who first thought of investigating that institute."
"Oh yeah? If bad shit is happening to the subjects, are you going to write an article about how it's their fault they're in there?" Chloe locked her eyes on Juliet and leaned forward. "Are you going to harass me with more questions about their dangerous power?"
"Chloe, I don't want to fight about this." Juliet's green eyes were difficult to read, but she almost sounded sincere. "The angle I took with that article wasn't as objective as I'd originally thought it to be. I gave too much credit to the Prescotts and I know that part of the power their facility has now is a result of my reports."
"You fucking used me." Chloe hadn't forgotten how Juliet had sounded sympathetic when she asked questions after the storm. How she asked questions about… about Rachel. How even if Juliet mentioned this was for an article, she manipulated Chloe into feeling like she was actually talking to someone who gave a fuck.
"You know what?" Chloe turned to point a finger at Dana. "You're both here to just fucking use me. Whatever bullshit dreams of fame you want to gain from writing bullshit about the subjects," Shaking her head, Chloe lifted her middle fingers and started to take steps backwards. "I'm having none of this shit. Fuck you both."
She turned and started to walk back towards the door.
"Chloe, wait!" Dana moved in front of Chloe, blocking her way to the door.
Glaring at Dana, Chloe spoke in a low, threatening tone. "Move."
"Just hear us out!"
Gritting her teeth, Chloe folded her arms across her chest and seriously contemplated using one of the moves David just taught her earlier today. "Are you going to make a habit of blocking my way when I want to leave?"
Dana flashed a sheepish smile. "I hope not?"
What good would a physical fight in a coffeeshop do?
Looking around, Chloe could see people already staring at her. Juliet was close by but keeping a safe distance.
With a sigh, Chloe let her hands drop to her sides. Nothing was worth making a scene and turning this into a public fight. Forcing herself to calm down and speak in an even tone, Chloe said, "What do you even want from me?"
Before Dana could open her mouth, Chloe pointed a finger at her, "And I don't want to hear more bullshit about wanting to help the subjects. You two have something to gain from this and I want to know what it is."
"Did you read up on Baelfire like I told you to?"
"Chloe." Juliet dared to speak as she made her way closer to Chloe, but still keeping a safe distance. "What I wrote before, that was a mistake. I was wrong and I think… I think doing this… tackling this issue… I think it'll right some of the wrongs."
Chloe looked from Juliet to Dana and back.
"It won't fix everything of course." Juliet admitted, "But it's a start, right?"
"We're making a scene." Chloe said, glaring at people who accidentally made eye contact with her. "It's not safe to talk about this shit here. I'm not going to risk my job for you two and whatever redemption you're trying to find."
"What about her?" Dana whispered, moving closer to Chloe. "What about Max? You want to help her out of there, don't you?"
"I still don't know if that's really her." Chloe kept her voice low, hoping nobody would overhear. "But if it is… if that's really Max…"
Chloe wasn't sure if she would be able to accept the gravity of such a reality.
"…I owe her."
The memory still haunted Chloe. She could still see Max, back when they were practically still kids… see how she was suddenly bleeding, pressing a hand against her stomach and looking horrifyingly pale. How her legs buckled under her. How she clung to Chloe. How there were tears in her eyes as she said Chloe's name.
And still, she managed to kick Chloe out of the car, moments before the crash.
Eyes watering, Chloe shook her head and heard her voice break as she said, "I owe her."
"Then help us." Dana said. "We'll figure something out."
"Not here." Chloe took a breath and let it out in a shaky sigh. "Has to be somewhere private."
"We can talk at my place." Juliet offered. "Maybe another day?"
Chloe glared at Juliet. "I'm still pissed at you. You killed Rachel's name. I don't know how you managed to look me in the eye that day and say that you'd tell the truth only for you to write about how it was all her fault and the fucking Prescotts saved the town."
Juliet was quiet, unable to meet Chloe's eyes.
"Give me time to figure things out a bit more." Chloe nudged her way past them. The pains of her past were making her chest hurt. First she lost Max. Then Rachel. And soon… soon, Mom could be next.
And yet… if Max was the subject in there… If Max was a prisoner in the Prescotts' mad scientist dungeon? Chloe couldn't in good conscience leave Max to rot in that cell, in those cuffs.
"Maybe I'll meet you two again next week. Text me the place."
Not wanting them to see how bad her hands were shaking and how watery her eyes were getting, Chloe shouldered her way through and headed straight for her truck.
The beep of heart monitors was the first thing Max became aware of, followed by the headache splitting her skull and the thirst burning her throat.
A low moan escaped her peeling lips as she tried to shift her position, only to realize she was strapped down, with her wrist cuffs chained to the bed and straps across her chest, waist and thighs.
With her heart picking up its pace, Max heard the heart monitors beep erraticly.
They weren't going to run more tests on her, were they?
She was spent. Drained and exhausted and probably nowhere near capable of using her abilities again.
As she turned her head to try to look around the room, she suddenly felt aware of how the metal surface beneath her felt against her head.
How her scalp felt exposed, barely covered by closely cropped hair.
"Shit." Max breathed out, leaning her head back and resigning herself to whatever fate had in store for her now.
Startled by the female voice, Max strained her neck to look for the source of the voice.
One of the female scientists came into view, positioned just behind Max's head. She looked down at Max and reached for her arm.
Gripped by a surge of panic, Max tried to jerk away, only to be stopped by the restraints. Her heart beat painfully against her chest as she strained to move out of reach. The straps cut into her and the machines beeped louder.
"Sssh, it's okay, dear." The woman touched Max's head, stroking the brutally short strands. "Try to calm down. No more experiments today."
At this news, Max stopped struggling.
Blinking and realizing she'd shed tears without meaning to, Max forced her body to relax, forced the tension in her muscles to ease and the panic in her chest to subside. No more experiments today. News like that shouldn't have made her feel so happy and relieved.
But this was her life now, wasn't it?
"You promise?" Max hated how soft her voice sounded, how almost childish the question felt.
The woman, who Max now recognized to be Dr. Grant, moved more towards Max's side and clasped her hand. "I promise."
Though her heart still beat rapidly, painfully, Max swallowed back her fear and noded. "Okay."
"He won't be seeing you for a while." There was sorrow and regret in Dr. Grant's eyes as she spoke. "I'm sorry about earlier, 219. But you're safe for now. He won't be seeing you until you're cleared to have recovered from the last test."
Looking away from Dr. Grant, Max chose not to respond.
"The interns are reaching the end of their program." Dr. Grant tried to make small talk as she checked on Max's vitals. "I believe a few of them will be cleared to interact with you when you're feeling better. Might not be so bad to see some new faces, right?"
Not when she was at the mercy of whoever was assigned to run tests on her. Not when it was impossible to tell if those new faces would be gentle or merciless until Max was restrained and left with no choice but to take whatever was coming to her. Not when those new faces tended to see her as less than human. As nothing more than a labrat with a number.
"Hold still, I'll just take a blood sample." Dr. Grant gave Max time to brace herself and look away before the needle went in. "At the very least, you'll have a bit of a break to recover." From the softening tone to Dr. Grant's voice, she was realizing that Max just wasn't in the mood for small talk.
Max just wanted to be alone so she could sleep.
At least in the darkness and privacy of her room, she could think about the memories she still held of being with Chloe before the storm ruined everything. Of seeing Chloe so happy and loved. Of going on those stupid adventures and crude investigations. Of being being Partners in Time. Those moments that Chloe had promised would always be theirs.
Even if now… it seemed those moments were only Max's.
Chloe's reality was something else entirely.
Looking at her reflection, Chloe could see the bags under her eyes. That could be attributed to her nightmares or to the fucked up sleep schedule she had to deal with because of the night shift. Not to mention the crying session se ended up having in the truck just a while ago.
Everything was just so fucked up.
Chloe needed to talk to that subject one more time to figure out if she could really be Max.
But that was a worry for another day.
Now… Chloe had something else to do.
She had an agreement with David. He wouldn't tell Mom about the drinking as long as she cooperated with him at work and showed that she was putting in actual effort to shape up.
And Mom… she wanted Chloe to do well at work and finally fucking shape up and grow up.
With a sigh, Chloe prepared herself, mentally and emotionally, to dye her hair back to as close a color as she could find to her natural hair. This shouldn't be such a big deal.
It was just hair after all, right?
I liked closing with an almost parallel theme here, where both girls have their hair changed to remind them of their place in this universe.
ALSO I HINTED AT MORE THINGS TO BE REVEALED. I'm also planning the roles of the other characters and how they will come into play. Just gotta nail things down then see how they fit into place.
Either way, what are your thoughts and theories? What happened to Rachel? Will Chloe and Max be able to talk again without being interrupted? How will being moved to the dayshift play out for Chloe? Juicy things to consider as we prep for the next chapter, which I hope to be able to post in a week or two.
A bit of a short chapter today but I got excited and wanted to post it already. Plus I'll be out of town this weekend and won't really be able to update before my trip. (unless I'm struck by madness and manage to finish chapter eight in two days? [hint hint your feedback tends to trigger said madness] )
Things are a bit slow for now, but I think they'll start to pick up as more and more characters get involved and as Chloe pushes back against her denial.
(also if you need to you can read back to chapter five since the flashback we closed at in that chapter will continue in this one)
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
FLASHBACK; ALTERNATE TIMELINE
TWO STUDENTS SHOT DEAD
The headline continued to swim through Max's mind as she sat in a cab on the way to Blackwell. Hopefully in this universe, she was still a student there. Hopefully, there was another way to figure this out.
Chloe was gone. Again. She confronted and antagonized Jefferson because of Max's warning, and now both Chloe and Rachel were dead.
There had to be another way. Max had to figure it out and find it. Her head felt heavy with the strain of using her abilities far more than she'd ever used them before and her body was sluggish with exhaustion.
But Max wasn't going to give up. She wasn't going to stop until she found a way to save everyone. A stupid choice between Chloe and Arcadia Bay couldn't be the only way things were supposed to end.
There had to be another way.
As the cab pulled to a stop and Max pushed more money than necessary into his hands, she resolved to find another picture she could focus into. Maybe one where Max could be the one to warn authorities about Jefferson, where Chloe wouldn't have to suffer as the only one who knew something was wrong with him.
Making her way to the dorms, Max was interrupted by Victoria, whose warm greeting was as off-putting as it was in a previous timeline. "How are you? Have you heard about Kari Price? I think you mentioned being her friend when you were kids?"
"Not now, Victoria." Max didn't have time for pleasantries and there was no need to dwell on Victoria's hurt feelings. There were bigger things to consider.
Another interruption came in the form of a girl with a beanie practically shoving a flyer in Max's face and she was about to push it away when the headline caught her eye.
JOIN THE PSYCHICS CLUB TODAY
Frowning, Max took the flyer to give it another look.
"This isn't a joke, I promise." The girl, who Max recognized now as Steph, started to explain the goals of the club. "I know Mr. Jefferson was rumored to be taking photos of people believed to be psychics, but this isn't about exploiting psychics."
Mentions of psychics in this timeline was definitely unusual. Was it related to the changes she'd been making?
"We just want to be able to get together and feel safe. Build a community, you know?"
"Thanks, Steph." Max flashed as polite a smile as she could manage despite the rising inner turmoil. "I'll check this out later."
Continuing on her way to the dorms, Max had just about entered the girls' building when Dana came into view. "Max, can we talk?"
Too many things were popping up. Max needed to get to her room and think about how to fix this. She didn't have anymore time for more interruptions. There was no way Max was going to allow this universe to remain a reality, so she didn't have to dwell on the people trying to interact with her.
"I talked to her, Max." Dana seemed to realize Max was thinking of a way to squirm away from a conversation. Just jumping right into it effectively captured Max's attention. "I talked to Chloe."
Max frowned. "What?"
"Before... before she went into that bunker." That was when Max noticed that Dana's tone was somber and her eyes looked bloodshot from lack of sleep or from crying or a combination thereof. "She told me where to find a flashdrive. It's where she saved a lot of her research on Mr. Jefferson. She said Juliet and I could break the story if anything happened to her and Rachel."
The snooping... the crude investigation... Chloe did that all without Max. If she did it with anyone, it was probably with Rachel. They played a dangerous game and paid the price.
"When I asked Chloe why she was so suspicious of Jefferson, she said it was because of something you told her. You warned her about it when you were younger." Dana continued.
"From when you were still friends."
Legs trembling, Max had to lean against the wall to steady herself while the hallway around her seemed to swim in and out of focus. This was a mess and it was all because Max planted fear and paranoia in Chloe at too young an age. Somehow it stuck with her but instead of staying away, she seemed to have been driven to expose him instead.
"What happened between you two?" Dana asked. "Chloe said you used to be very close. But when you came back and she tried talking to you about Jefferson, none of it seemed to click with you."
Warmth building behind her eyes accompanied her blurring vision. The urge to cry accompanied a tightening in her chest but she fought it back. She couldn't break down now.
"She said you chose Jefferson and she chose Rachel."
"Fuck." Max couldn't stand any more of this. She couldn't continue to allow this timeline to remain a reality.
She had to fix this.
"Max, can we-"
"Leave me alone, Dana." Max walked past her. "I need to figure this out."
It seemed like an eternity before Max was finally in the safety and privacy of her room.
"As explained in the handbook, you're not to interfere with any of the tests being run by the scientists." David paced a portion of the parking lot they'd delegated for tonight's briefing and training session. "At best, you should just stand to the side and pay close attention to the subject's behavior and to the scientists' instructions."
"Don't interrupt the tests or make any moves without orders." It physically pained Chloe to resist the urge to roll her eyes as she summarized David's points. "Got it."
David nodded. "Good. There may come a time when you might have to take action for the safety of both subject and scientist. A few scientists here have been known to get way too fixated on their experiments and it puts themselves or their subjects at risk."
Something about that unnerved Chloe.
Even if she hadn't yet stood as witness to any actual tests, she still hadn't forgotten how bruised and starved Subject 219 looked the last time Chloe saw her. There was just something very wrong about how broken the girl looked. How she almost didn't look human anymore.
And the way Zachary Riggins barked orders at her, even threatening to cuff her to her bed?
That felt wrong.
Now, knowing there were scientists here who were willing to push their little lab rats to dangerous levels?
The more time Chloe spent thinking about this job, the less she felt like it was a good idea.
But what other choice did she have?
"Now if that happens, a guard may interfere." David continued. "But that's only under very specific circumstances and you, as a trainee, are not to interfere at all. You have no clearance or training to interrupt a test. Do you understand?"
Swallowing the bile rising to her throat, Chloe forced herself to nod.
David seemed impressed by the fact that Chloe hadn't said anything snarky for nearly half an hour. "Good. Now usually, scientists work with assistants who know some of the basic techniques for restraining a subject if one gets unruly. Their main focus though is mostly to just manage and monitor the equipment and otherwise help the scientists."
Chloe nodded to show she was still paying attention even if her focus wasn't really on him.
The disaster of a meetup with Dana and Juliet still weighed heavily in Chloe's mind.
No matter how much they tried to convince Chloe that they were in it for the principle of helping the subjects, they still stood to gain a great deal of credit and prestige once the story broke.
On top of that was still the fact that the last time Chloe trusted Juliet with a story, it blew up into a mess.
"Your job as a guard is to ensure the safety of all involved." David continued, "You'll also be expected to transport subjects and restrain them if needed."
The more Chloe heard of all these rules for how to deal with the subjects, the more it felt like the subjects were prisoners here. They were lab rats, actually. Trapped in their cells and escorted to their tests like criminals being moved around.
"Okay." Chloe mumbled, keeping her eyes down.
"What's wrong?" David's voice was gruff yet awkward. He sounded almost like he was genuinely trying to show concern but didn't know how.
"You're not hungover, are you?"
Chloe bristled. "No! I'm fine!"
Granted, she drank heavily after the meetup with Juliet and Dana. The bottle was pretty much empty now and Chloe was going to have to get more at the next opportunity.
But she could handle her alcohol and she wasn't the slightest bit hungover tonight.
David huffed. "If you say so."
"You said there were subjects you wanted to talk to me about." Chloe hoped one of those was 219. Hopefully David could shed light on that point of confusion.
"Maybe another time." David said.
"Why not now?"
David's jaw clenched. "Because your training doesn't need to involve that just yet."
"Is it about 219?" Chloe took a step forward. "Is there something you want to tell me about her?"
Shaking his head, David spoke softly and avoided Chloe's gaze. "There are just things she seems to know that she shouldn't. Let's talk about this later. After your shift. I promise."
Narrowing her eyes at him, Chloe said, "But her powers are screwing with time, not reading minds, right? Or casting illusions?"
"Chloe, just drop it." David's tone was a low warning now. "It's time for us to go over some techniques if you encounter an unruly subject."
"Most of them are in bed this time around anyway, it can't be that urgent!"
David ran a hand through his hair and sighed audibly before speaking again, "Chloe, this is in preparation for your move to the dayshift. Your mother is already up my ass about you not coping well with the graveyard shift. She can tell how fucked up you are."
This response forced Chloe to pause.
"I'm pretty sure she suspects the drinking but doesn't want to face it."
Chloe looked down, this time unable to meet his eyes. She wasn't ready to dwell on Mom's condition or how such a heavy burden of stress could deeply affect her health.
"Can you please just work with me here?" David's voice softened now. "We're both doing this for her, remember?"
In an unsteady voice, Chloe admitted what she hated having to. "You're right."
"Right." David shifted his stance. "I'm going to come at you and I want you to subdue me. Bring out the electric prod and practice the motion of directing it at me."
"Oooh." Taking advantage of the shift in topic, she tried for a shift in mood. "Can I-"
"No, you may not taze me."
Rolling her eyes, Chloe moved into position. "Buzzkill."
FLASHBACK; ALTERNATE TIMELINE
Looking at her photo wall, Max forced her ragged gasps to deepen into more even breaths.
She had to be calm for this. She had to be in control. She had to be focused.
There weren't any pictures with Chloe since apparently, in this reality, Max was part of the Vortex Club and on good speaking terms with Victoria, even Nathan. There were more than enough pictures of the three of them laughing together, even drinking together.
It had to be farther back.
Max picked out an old selfie from Seattle. It was around the time she'd decided to go back to Arcadia Bay since she'd heard that Mr. Jefferson was teaching there.
If she did this from a distance, maybe it wouldn't be traced back to Chloe.
Focusing on the picture, Max felt the throbbing pain in her head increase to a nearly unbearable level. She'd been overusing her abilities. Max knew she was nearing her very limits, but she couldn't just stop now.
By the time she found herself in her old bedroom in Seattle, she wanted nothing more than to lie in bed and pass out.
But that wouldn't fix anything.
Max had to fix everything.
Grabbing her phone, Max dialed 911.
The operator picked up before the first ring was even over.
"Hi, I'd like to…" What was she going to say? How could she sound convincing? "I'd like to place an anonymous tip."
"Regarding what, ma'am?"
"Mark Jefferson." Max couldn't help but shiver as the name worked its way past her lips. How could she have looked up to him as a hero not so long ago? "He drugs students. I can't give a lot of details but…"
How could she give more credibility to this report?
"…but I know it's happened to my friends. They don't remember much of what he does while they're drugged."
"Would you be able to give us more information?" The operator asked, "This is a serious accusation and-"
"Mark Jefferson teaches at Blackwell in Arcadia Bay. Please look into it." Max hung up before the operator could ask more questions.
Hopefully the urgency and fear in her voice was going to be enough to convince him. Hopefully they would look into it before Chloe or Rachel ever tried to do anything stupid. Hopefully that call would be enough to save them. Hopefully things would be okay.
Max needed things to be okay after this.
As she felt herself being pulled back to a new present timeline, Max prayed she wouldn't have to make any more changes.
It took several tries before David was satisfied with Chloe being able to respond to an attacker charging at her. After that they went over some basic rules regarding use of their standard equipment. Some guards carried guns but Chloe wasn't cleared for that yet so her focus was to get familiar with the electric prod, which was longer than a tazer and made it easier for a guard to subdue a subject from a farther distance; the flashlight, which was more for guards during the night shift; the baton, which wasn't to be used unless absolutely necessary and David reiterated that Chloe wasn't allowed to use hers until after he'd trained her with its uses; and the handcuffs, which were to be used to subdue targets who wouldn't cooperate.
A few subjects had permanent cuffs that doubled as blockers for their abilities, but some didn't have any such restraints. That was why guards had handcuffs on their person as a precaution.
She felt more like a prison guard than anything else as she began her patrol rounds after being dismissed by David.
Maybe now was as good a time as any to try dropping by 219's cell. Chloe still wanted answers and if even David was unnerved by her, then something was up. If there were things she knew that she wasn't supposed to, then what could that mean?
Chloe didn't think she'd ever feel this eager to talk to her stepdick after shift.
What were the things 219 knew that she wasn't supposed to? What was it about her that bothered David?
As she made her way towards the lower floors with every intention of visiting 219 after the first round of patrolling, Chloe went over possible questions to ask the mysterious subject.
How do you know me? Why do you look like Max? Why do you sound like Max? How did you end up here? How can you really be Max?
And if it was Max…
Since when did you have powers like that?
Shouting jarred Chloe out of her train of thought.
"No more! Leave me alone! I CAN HEAR YOU JUDGING ME!" A panicked woman's voice accompanied what sounded like shattering glass. "He's not as brilliant as you think he is!"
Rushing into the room where the commotion was coming from, Chloe entered just in time to see an intern pressed up against the wall while a subject threw a tantrum, throwing papers in the air, kicking at the equipment and screaming between sobs.
"Stop, stop, STOP!" The subject pounded her fists against her head. "Get out! Stop thinking about Max! Stop thinking about mom! Stop thinking about Jefferson! Stop thinking about alcohol!" Stop STOP STOP!"
The subject lunged for Chloe and without thinking, she sidestepped before pushing the subject, redirecting her charge towards the wall.
A hard thud accompanied the impact before Chloe pinned the subject with one forearm and used the other to cuff her hands together.
She squirmed and struggled, forcing Chloe to trip her and pin her to the ground.
"Hey, take it easy." Chloe's tone came out harsher than intended as she pressed her knee across the subjects back. "I don't want to use the prod. Just calm down, okay?"
The calmer tone Chloe managed to use seemed to work, because the girl stopped struggling and instead allowed herself to be pulled to her knees.
She was sobbing and breathing heavily, but no longer trying to get away.
It made Chloe's chest ache.
The girl looked vaguely familiar.
"What's going on here?" The gruff voice of another guard pulled Chloe's attention away from the weeping subject. "Price, what happened here?"
"I dunno man, she was freaking out and throwing shit around." Chloe stood up and stepped away from the subject. "I…" What was the David way of reporting what happened? "I subdued and restrained her."
The guard looked from Chloe to the subject and back before taking in the state of the room. With a furrowing brow, he turned to the intern. "You okay, Victoria?"
In the panic and urgency of the situation, Chloe hadn't even noticed that the intern was Victoria.
Looking over at her, Chloe could see that Victoria still looked shaken up, but she hid it with narrowed eyes and a lifted chin. "I'm fine. Just take her back to her room."
"Will do." The guard, who Chloe recognized as Logan Robertson, another asshole from school, nodded to Victoria before roughly pulling the subject to her feet and jostling her out the door.
She was still sobbing and seemed to be gasping for breath as she stumbled around.
Shouldn't they be treating her more gently?
Chloe herself felt sick after manhandling the poor girl.
"What happened?" Chloe looked at Victoria.
"I just wanted to put in some extra work." Victoria's explanation was in a biting, clipped tone. "I had clearance for it and filed the paperwork correctly, if that's what you're asking."
A glance at her hands showed that they were still trembling.
Mentally kicking herself, Chloe took a step forward and allowed concern to filter into her words. "Are you okay?"
"I'm fine!" Victoria snapped. "Get out of here! I still have to salvage what little I can of my research."
"Get the fuck out of here before I report you!"
Gritting her teeth and once again resisting the urge to resort to physical violence with the one and only Victoria Chase, Chloe turned and started to walk towards the door.
"A thank you would have been nice." Chloe couldn't stop herself from grumbling as she left the room.
And as she continued to walk down the hallways, it dawned on her that the subject was Kate Marsh. An awkward girl who was quiet for the most part, kept to herself until she suddenly tried to jump off the school building. People in suits were able to stop her and after that, nobody really saw her again.
Apparently, she ended up here.
Chloe couldn't help but wonder who else was here and if it was worth peeking into every cell window.
But as the sick feeling in her stomach set in and the urge to get drunk later started to take its hold, Chloe knew she wasn't ready to sate her curiosity tonight. She wasn't ready to see more gaunt versions of faces she once knew. And just seeing more of the conditions these people lived with might just make Chloe throw up what little she'd eaten.
She was just going to finish her rounds of the upper floors then sit in the locker room on the last half hour of her shift.
Right now, she wanted nothing more than to sit alone and just take this all in.
But there was a job to do.
Breathing in deeply, Chloe braced herself to carry on with her job, no matter how much it unnerved her.
I tried putting in headings to distinguish flashbacks and Max's timehopping from the present day scenes. Are they okay or do I do without them?
WELL Y'ALL FED MY MADNESS SO THANKS. Here's an update before I go on the beach trip with fam. I might not be able to update so soon after this coz I have a busy week next week, but just throw your feedback at me or you can even bug me on my socials to tell me how much you're itching for more.
ALSO. There are some very heavy themes in this chapter. We dabble a bit in Chloe's and Kate's suicide attempts as well as the torture of subjects in another facility that Chloe reads about. Just be warned and stay safe, friends.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The locker room was quiet when Chloe first sat down, but now it was starting to bustle with activity as the day shift guards started coming in and shuffling through their uniforms and equipment. Their chatter seemed to be a lifetime away and Chloe felt detached from it all.
How could anyone gush about last night's date with the lady when human beings were miserable and trapped within the very walls of this hellhole?
If David was going to move Chloe to the day shift soon, that would mean seeing more of the subjects. Seeing the actual experiments even.
How was she supposed to be able to cope with that? How was she supposed to stand in a corner and just watch without comment or action?
Chloe tried to give herself the benefit of a doubt. Tried to convince herself that the tests can't be too bad. That the scientists were humane. That the tests actually brought some good into this world. That the Prescotts were right when (according to Juliet's article all those years ago) they were using their tests for the safety of Arcadia Bay and that psychics running amok were a danger to society.
Rachel hadn't been a danger.
But deep in her heart, Chloe knew that statement wasn't completely true.
Rachel hadn't exactly been harmless. And her erratic emotions didn't mix well with her powerful abilities.
Interrupted from her thoughts, Chloe looked up to see David standing over her.
Chloe shrugged. "Sure."
Uninvited, David sat down next to Chloe.
She curled her lip and was about to move away from him but stopped when he spoke. "You're right, I'm concerned about 219."
Looking at David, Chloe raised her eyebrow. "And how she knows shit she shouldn't?"
David nodded. "Exactly."
It was tempting to press David to keep going, berate him for being so slow about giving out the dirty details. But Chloe reigned herself in. The last thing she needed was to agitate him into closing up when he was already just on the verge of shedding some light on 219.
The crowded locker room began to clear as the night shift went home and the day shift began their duties.
"She asked me about you." Even if they were alone, David kept his voice low. "When I first started working here seven years ago, she already knew my name. She'd call me every time I passed by her room."
It bothered Chloe to know 219 was already here seven years ago, and was probably here even longer than that.
If she was really Max, then that meant she was already here as young as fifteen years old.
…and that she survived the crash nine years ago.
"Eventually, I folded and asked her what she wanted." David continued, his voice gruff. "She asked if you were okay."
"What did you say?" Chloe couldn't remember ever being okay. It felt way too long ago. Everything always just kept going downhill for her like the world was out to get her.
"I shook off the question. I think I let slip that you were fine and met a new friend. That was when you started spending time with Rachel Amber." At the mention of the name, David paused, clearly feeling uncomfortable bringing it up.
Thankfully, he shrugged off the tension and pushed forward."After that I avoided talking to 219 and stuck to the protocols of not engaging with the subjects."
Chloe found herself feeling disappointed.
Surely David could see that something was wrong with distancing yourself from the subjects? Or was this just a job he wanted to get done, regardless of any other factors?
Remembering Mom and how she couldn't work at the diner anymore, Chloe had to admit that the more focused they stayed in keeping this facility job, the easier it would be to keep paying the medical bills.
"The fact that she knows about you…" David shook his head. "That really worries me, Chloe."
Stepdouche was right about that.
"To be honest, she's one of the reasons I'm apprehensive about you working here." David admitted. "But it's our only option. So please just be careful? And I know I can't order you not to talk to her because knowing you…"
"Yeah, I'm probably going to talk to her."
David sighed. "Of course you are. Just don't let her get to your head?"
"Any other subjects you want to talk to me about?" Chloe changed the topic, not liking how intimate this conversation was getting.
David seemed put off by the abrupt question, but answered anyway. "Well there are other subjects here you might recognize. People who probably actually knew you from school."
"Yeah, I saw Kate Marsh last night." Chloe said, unable to keep herself from shuddering as she recalled the previous night. "She was really freaking out and I had to use the moves you taught me before she hurt herself or Victoria."
The combined look of shock and pride in David's eyes made Chloe uncomfortable. "Good job, Chloe."
Searching for a barbed response, Chloe came up short and wound up just shrugging and looking away. Pleasing David still felt really gross.
"Steph Gingrich is here too." It was David's turn to uncomfortably redirect the conversation. "And… Nathan Prescott."
"Nathan?" Chloe frowned. "As a scientist or as a lab rat? Why would-"
David lifted his palm to stop any more questions from coming. "I don't know the details and as guards, we're not supposed to. I just know that he's been tested ever since he was a kid and just like everybody else, after…"
Chloe clenched her teeth and kept her eyes on the floor, knowing what event he was going to mention.
"…after the storm, he was kept as an in-patient."
That storm apparently changed everything for everyone, too.
And Chloe wasn't ready to think about that. She needed a drink and a good long sleep.
"I'm done." Chloe stood up and headed for the changing room without looking back at David.
FLASHBACK; ALTERNATE TIMELINE
Did it work?
Finding herself back in her dorm room at Blackwell, Max was surprised to see pictures of herself together with Kate and Steph on the photo wall. There was even a group photo where Max and Steph held up a sign that read PSYCHIC CLUB.
But where were Chloe and Rachel?
There was another photo on the wall, of what looked like an assembly, with Jefferson speaking to the student body. Squinting at the picture, Max could just barely make out Chloe and Rachel in the crowd.
Taking the picture, Max was about to start searching her room for more clues when she heard a knock on her door.
"Max, are you there?"
"Steph?" Max frowned, still not sure what to make of being Steph's friend in this timeline. And a close friend at that, if the pictures on the wall were any indication.
Opening the door, Max was nearly knocked over by Steph rushing inside, phone in hand. "Have you heard what happened?"
No... Dread filled Max.
In her mind, Max silently prayed, silently begged for the universe not to bring her more news of another way Chloe died.
Max held her breath. "Heard about what?"
"It's Chloe…" Steph's voice was shaky. "She and Rachel were in a car accident."
"No…" Max felt her stomach twist into knots while her heart sank to the floor and her legs threatened to buckle underneath her. "Please tell me they're alive."
The unshed tears in Steph's eyes broke Max's heart as the reality set in for what felt like the millionth time.
Feeling her world shatter all over again, Max half lowered herself, half collapsed onto the side of her bed and pressed her face into her hands. "This can't be real."
"I know you two weren't close lately… but you always talked about being good friends with her when you were younger…" Steph tried to put a hand on Max's shoulder but she shook it off. "She really didn't like Jefferson. She always managed to say something nitpicky about him when I had DnD games with her and Mikey."
Dragging her hands up to her hair and ruffling her fingers into her scalp to release pent up energy, Max groaned out her frustration and pain.
It wasn't over yet.
She had to find another way.
"Jefferson was caught with those photos and those audio logs just last week…" Steph continued to talk. "There's a possibility the crash was arranged by people who were running those tests with him. Honestly, I think the Prescotts are on his side."
"Shit." Max stood up and started to pace the room, trying to think of another way they could get this to play out.
"People suspect Chloe had something to do with Jefferson's arrest since we all know how much she antagonized him."
"Steph, I want to be alone right now." Max opened the door with shaky hands. "Please leave."
If in this timeline, Jefferson was not just taking pictures but running weird tests and making audio logs about it, then more and more things about the universe were changing the more Max tampered with time.
Was Max leaving traces of psychic energy with each rewind?
If psychics were becoming more and more of a reality in this universe, Max wasn't sure how many more times she could change things before the universe became completely unrecognizable.
But she couldn't give up yet. Chloe wasn't meant to sacrifice herself for this town and she wasn't meant to die unloved in a bathroom and she wasn't meant to die saving her love in a bunker and she wasn't meant to die in car crash.
Stubbornly clinging to the hope that there was some way to save everyone, Max focused on the picture of the assembly.
It took a few nights, but Chloe finally steeled her resolve enough to visit the lower floors during her patrol rounds. She had to see who else was in here.
And she had to talk to 219. Chloe was losing too much sleep dwelling on the mystery of whether or not 219 was really the same Max that Chloe used to play around and pretend to be pirates with. If she was really the same kid who saved Chloe from that deadly crash.
Heading down to the lower floors, Chloe took a peak into a random cell, one with the label that read Subject 228.
The person inside was curled up on her bed, facing the wall.
Looking more closely, Chloe could see that her wrists were in glowing cuffs similar to what 219 wore to block her powers. That meant that whoever was in here couldn't play any tricks on Chloe.
But she probably didn't want to talk to anyone either. This was her time to rest, most likely before having to go through more tests tomorrow.
Something about her was familiar though.
Chloe squinted at the glass, taking in the short, reddish hair, almost long enough to count as a pixie cut.
Then she rolled over in bed and Chloe froze at the sight of familiar blue eyes. "Steph?"
Eyes wide and shocked, Steph sat up and gaped.
And Chloe couldn't help but take in the thinness of her face, the hollowness of her cheeks and the way her eyes sank into her skull. She was a shell of the bright and lively person Chloe once knew and their tabletop sessions seemed to be a lifetime ago.
She could still remember the way Steph would cast illusions to complement their games, showing little visual snippets of the characters Chloe and Mikey played. The best part was always when Steph would narrate the defeat of a Big Bad while letting an illusion of the scene play out across their maps and character sheets.
"Chloe?" Steph seemed to finally get over her shock enough to stagger over to the door. "What are you doing here?"
"Guarding you, I guess?" Not Chloe's wittiest response, but given the shock of the situation, it deserved at least a passing mark.
Instead of laughing though, Steph's eyes darkened at the response. Glancing pointedly at Chloe's cap and uniform before glaring directly at her, Steph said, "You're one of them."
"Steph, no, I just-"
"Are you here to pick me up for a new test?" Steph lifted her hands so the cuffs were visible, "Should I face the wall and put my hands behind my back, ma'am?"
This anger had been the last thing Chloe expected and she tried to stutter out an explanation, but no intelligible words came out.
"If not, then leave me the fuck alone." Steph spat, retreating back to her bed.
"PRICE!" Zachary Riggins' voice startled Chloe as she turned to see him walking over. "The fuck are you doing?"
Recovering quickly enough to respond, Chloe straightened up and said, "Just making my rounds, ensuring subjects are in their beds."
Riggins looked at her suspiciously before glancing through the window, where Steph was already back in bed and facing away from the door. "Looks like everything's in order here."
"Go another round upstairs then. Logan and I got this floor covered."
And that meant there wasn't going to be an opportunity to talk to 219 tonight.
Swallowing back any protests, reluctantly acknowledging defeat for now, Chloe headed back to the elevator.
There would come a time when she could get even with Riggins for bossing her around. It wasn't going to be today, but Chloe wished it would come sooner. She didn't know how much longer she could fold under him and pretend to be a good little trainee.
Rubbing at her newly shorn hair, Max sat on her bed with her knees close to her chest and her back against the wall.
Chloe was alive. Chloe was safe.
That was the only consolation Max could find in this universe. The fact that Chloe Price was alive and arguably in better health here than any other timeline Max had seen her.
But at what cost?
Pressing her forehead into her knees and wrapping her arms around her legs, Max thought about the psychics she'd inadvertently created in this world. The rise of this version of the Prescotts where they'd captured every psychic in Arcadia Bay to further their study and theoretically maintain public safety.
Not bothering to lift her head, Max already recognized the presence in her head as Kate's. They were a few cells away from each other but Kate's telepathic ability of reading minds and, if she focused enough, create a mind link, meant they could sometimes converse.
Max could feel the link just hovering at the edge of her consciousness, asking permission to enter.
"Hi Kate." Max allowed the link to take shape, just enough for them to be able to read each others' surface thoughts.
There registered a low level of amusement at how Max still liked to sometimes reply verbally even if it took less effort to think her responses.
And there was also a heavy sense of sorrow and loneliness. She hated being trapped here but felt like she had nowhere else to go. She found consolation in the fact that she had food and shelter, even if the price meant being experimented on and treated as less than human.
Then she thought of the recent experiment she went through.
Victoria Chase was there. Running some tests, getting frustrated with Kate. Kate couldn't filter out the other thoughts in the hallway. She heard Chloe's turmoil of thoughts about the facility and her mixed feelings about David. She felt Victoria's growing impatience.
And the panic just set in and Kate lost control of herself.
I saw Chloe. Your Chloe. The one you think about a lot. Kate walked Max through the memory of being restrained by Chloe. Of how she was harsh at first, before lowering her voice and calmly trying to get Kate to come down from her panic. I barely remember her from school. I didn't think she would be the same person you always think about.
"Do you know what happened to her?" Max asked, unable to shake off the hints Chloe dropped the last time they talked. The anger she suddenly showed. The way she was alluding to almost not being alive. "Did she…?"
There was hesitation from Kate. She seemed to be blocking off her thoughts to keep Max from peeking.
"Kate." Max needed to know.
She did try. Once. Kate answered, her heart heavy. Her stepfather... that head guard, David... He thinks about it sometimes but doesn't dwell on the details. He just gets sucked up in the terror and pain from when he first got the frantic call from his wife.
Max felt her heart break into a million pieces.
Leaning her head back against the wall, she bit her lip and tried to stop the tears from falling.
I don't know how to answer that, Max. Kate's sympathy filtered through their link. She wasn't thinking strongly about it when she cuffed me. She felt sick of this place though. I could feel her resenting the way they treat us.
Max wiped at her eyes and swallowed through the tightness in her throat.
"Just think about something else." She wanted to dwell on this alone. Wanted to cry about this alone. Wanted to mourn this alone.
Chloe survived and Chloe was alive, but what had she gone through? What pain did she suffer from?
Thinking it over, Max knew Chloe was still convinced that Max died in the car crash together with William. So those were two deaths Chloe was forced to grieve for. Then… whatever happened to Rachel in this universe was probably a point of major pain.
She must feel so alone…
Max, I miss my family… Kate's clumsy attempt at diverting Max's thoughts was jarring but at least there was something to dwell on instead of spiraling into feeling bad about Chloe. I mean… I know I'm dead to them and I should let it go but I… I still miss them.
The grief Kate still felt at being abandoned by her family weighed heavily on Max, filling her with guilt.
"Kate, I'm sorry…"
Confusion came through the link.
"I'm the reason you're here, aren't I?" Max thought back to the day Jefferson had her dragged to the testing room and pressured her into winding back to before Kate jumped. It gave Jefferson's men time to stop Kate and bring her here.
And now she was a prisoner.
Max, it's not your fault. I don't blame you. Genuine warmth came from Kate as she sent waves of comfort towards Max. I forgive you for that, you know.
Even with the forgiveness, Max still felt buried deep in guilt and despair.
Besides, my family would have disowned me one way or another. They're convinced my powers are from the devil. That the voices I hear are demons.
Max felt terrible for Kate either way and wished there was some way to make things better.
But trapped here, with no access to her powers unless for tests in a highly controlled, heavily guarded room, Max had no choice but to live with this reality.
After being stuck here for what? Nine years? Max doubted she could leave this reality after sloppily tumbling into it.
Do you miss your family? I mean the one from your original timeline at least?
Max clenched her teeth. She didn't want to think about that. That meant thinking back to the first timeline she ever lived with. Thinking back to just being a stupid regular photography student exchanging letters with her parents.
It was a lifetime ago and Max didn't want to dwell on it.
Do you want me to leave you alone?
"Yeah." Max wanted to break down in peace.
Goodbye, Max... I'll talk to you later.
The link wavered before fading away, leaving Max alone with her thoughts and her pains.
Completely, painfully alone.
The anger in Steph's eyes still burned through Chloe's mind as she got home and made her way up the stairs.
Noticing that Mom's door was ajar, Chloe walked over and gently knocked to announce her prescence.
"Hi, Chloe." Mom's voice was still gravelly from sleep.
"How are you?"
Mom stretched before curling back into position. "Tired. Just going to sleep a bit more."
"Sleep well, Mom." Chloe closed the door slowly and went to her own room. The bottle of booze in her hand suddenly felt too heavy.
Putting it in her cabinet, behind the jackets and button-down shirts, Chloe flopped down onto bed.
She felt lost.
David wanted her to just keep her head down and do her job. Mom wanted her to excel at work. Mom needed her to excel at work and earn some extra cash because holy shit, the medical bills.
But how could Chloe just turn a blind eye? She could see how terrified and fucked up Kate was. She could see how thin and angry Steph was. And 219? If that was really Max? She was in terrible shape, too.
How could Chloe just keep her head down and transport them to and from their tests like prisoners?
You're one of them.
The barbed words still pierced Chloe and she couldn't shake off the way Steph looked at her.
Vibrating in her pocket probably meant another call from Dana.
"Fucking hell." Maybe answering her would stop the calls for a little while. Chloe pressed the phone to her ear. "What?"
"Have you thought about meeting us on your next day off?"
If Chloe were to be honest with herself, she was on the verge of meeting up with Dana and talking through these thoughts with her. But knowing Juliet was part of this was enough to send Chloe running.
"I haven't decided yet."
It was possible that Juliet genuinely changed and really was trying to make things right. But there was no way Chloe could know that for sure and she would rather be suspicious than stupidly trusting.
"Have you looked up Baelfire?"
Chloe rolled her eyes. "No."
"At least look it up? It might bring you some fresh perspective."
Whatever it took to get Dana to stop calling so Chloe could have some peace to think things over. "Fine. I'll look it up before I sleep. Will you leave me alone for a couple of days?"
"Yes!" Dana sounded too eager.
"Fine. Bye then." Chloe hung up before Dana could protest.
It was tempting to just sleep or even retrieve her hidden bottle, but Chloe had a feeling that if Dana somehow found out Chloe didn't actually look up that facility from Maine, then there would not be an end to the incessant calls.
With a loud groan nobody was meant to hear, Chloe stomped over to her computer and started her search.
Baelfire was a facility headed by lead scientist Dr. Robert Gold. He led a lot of research on psychics and supernaturals, contributing to major developments in both medical and military fields. He was friends with Dr. Aldous Leekie of the DYAD Institute. They collaborated a few times but Gold mostly kept to his own experiments.
Until a bunch of subjects broke out of his facility and were now loose and nobody knew where they were. It sparked debate over whether or not facilities should treat their subjects more humanely. There were also conflicting articles about whether or not psychics and supernaturals posed a danger and should remain in facilities or at least be under heavy monitoring.
But if the subjects of Baelfire Research Center were able to escape successfully, maybe there was a chance that Chloe could somehow get Kate, Steph and Max out of PRIPS? And whoever else Chloe could try to help.
This was assuming she was insane enough to really try busting them out because it was not going to be easy. Especially not while Riggins kept trying to get Chloe to stay away from the lower floors.
As Chloe continued going down the Baelfire rabbit hole, she found videos. A lot of them. Being uploaded by an anonymous account. Many of them looked like security footage from the facility itself.
Whoever was involved in the subjects' escape must have hacked into the system and released footage of the fucked up conditions the subjects lived with. There was one where Gold had a guard break some girl's arm, forcing her to use her telekinetic abilities to heal herself.
Chloe wanted to look away but instead found herself watching the next video. It was of a scarred up woman with a shaved head being dunked into a tank of water until her eyes glowed unnaturally. She was the one they called a lycanthrope.
There was one where their telepathic subject threw a fit and was roughly subdued by the guards. Another where the lycanthrope was being sliced open to monitor her healing abilities.
And that was when Chloe got to a different video.
They had a woman cuffed to a chair. Her undershirt had blood down the front, most likely from what looked like a broken nose. Gold was questioning her, asking her why she helped the subjects escape. Who helped her? Who planned it? Who else was part of it?
And why she suddenly decided that helping those creatures was worth more than her well-paying job as a guard.
That was when Chloe had to close her browser and lean back against her chair.
There was this huge mess of technicalities regarding public safety and the danger those with strange abilities could pose. Rachel… as much as Chloe hated to admit it… Rachel had been dangerous.
But what troubled Chloe the most was that guard. She turned her back on her boss and helped the subjects escape.
Just like what Chloe was vaguely considering doing.
If at least one company was going so far as to torture a guard for that… (nevermind the legalities of it because these rich people would be getting away with it one way or another, wouldn't they?)… then was Chloe willing to take that risk?
Was Chloe ready to get her face fucked up if she attempted to help the subjects and failed?
And that wasn't even considering yet what the Prescotts could do to Mom.
Now, Chloe couldn't stop herself from heading to her closet and grabbing the vodka.
I doubt there's much overlap between the LiS fandom and the Once Upon a Time fandom but if you're intrigued a little bit by Baelfire, you can take a peek at my finished fic, Subject 204. It's not required reading tho and any mention of it in this fic more or less gets explained anyway. What happened in that fic kind of sets the stage a bit for this one and also, as shown in this chapter, shows what the stakes are and what potential consequences would look like.
This chapter is a little on the short side but it reveals a little more stuff.
On a personal note lol I had a great date last night and the lovely lady was interested in a second date so THERE'S THAT and I'm pretty pumped.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
FLASHBACK; CURRENT TIMELINE
The music was loud, pounding into her ears while the deep bass sent heavy thuds against her chest.
And it was exhilarating.
With the buzz of alcohol and the thrill of the music, Chloe was in for a night of wild partying. Mom could call all she wanted but Chloe wasn't going to be answering until she was done with having fun. And stepdouche could just suck his own dick as far as Chloe was concerned.
The best part?
This wasn't any regular club. Some of the town's most badass psychics were here. On stage, Firewalk was adding flair to their performance with their powers. A string of sparks here, a puff of smoke there, and their grand finisher- breathing out a burst of fire just above the crowd's heads.
It got Chloe so pumped up, she was jumping along with many other hyped up members of the crowd.
Until she bumped into someone behind her.
"Sorry!" Chloe spun around to see a skeevy guy with a shit ton of tattoos and some tacky piercings. He looked furious as he held a nearly empty beer bottle and sported a drenched shirt that stank of alcohol.
"You owe me for that, you little bitch!" The guy reached out, grabbed Chloe by the hoodie and yanked her closer to him.
Reacting on instinct, Chloe brought her knee up, straight into his groin. The guy doubled over and let go, giving Chloe enough time to push her way through the crowd and back into the main lobby area.
There, Frank was chilling on the sofa, looking like he wasn't quite mentally present. Steph was chatting up some girl and showing off her illusion powers.
Just before Chloe could consider which person to approach for help, the skeevy guy's voice called from right behind Chloe. "Fuck you, bitch!"
Turning towards his voice, Chloe found herself reeling from an unexpected blow to the face.
She staggered back, pressing a hand against her throbbing eye. "What the fuck, man?"
They were drawing attention to themselves now. The lobby had fallen silent and the guy was moving closer, not quite done with Chloe.
Gritting her teeth and standing her ground, Chloe lifted her chin to meet his glare. If this was going to turn into a fistfight then at least Chloe could cross that off her bucket list and brag a little about it to Mikey later.
Fuck, who was Chloe kidding? She was going to brag about this a lot to Mikey.
She smirked. "You planning to hit me again, you ugly-ass fucker?"
The guy's lip curled at her bravado. He must have been expecting some begging and weeping. No way in hell was Chloe going to give that to him.
Steph moved forward towards Chloe, starting to place herself between them. "Why don't you guys just-"
"Shut it!" The guy rounded on Steph's attempt to diffuse the situation, drawing a knife and pointing it at her.
Chloe's every instinct was to take advantage of the distraction and run way, but instead she put herself in front of the guy, blocking his view of Steph. "Hey, your fight's with me, shitface. Lay off her."
He pointed the knife dangerously close to her throat.
A blast of wind coming from literally nowhere knocked the guy to the side.
"What the fuck?" Chloe gaped at the guy. He was literally thrown across the room.
"Let's go!" A hand grasped hers and Chloe blinked to see a beautiful girl looking at her. "Cops are on their way to raid this place."
Still thoroughly in shock, it took Chloe several stuttering attempts to finally gasp out, "R-Rachel?"
"Chloe, come on!" Rachel didn't wait for Chloe to process the situation, instead pulling her through the crowd and out the back door just as sirens filled the air and the flickering red of police lights cast eerie shadows.
FLASHBACK; ALTERNATE TIMELINE
Focusing into the picture of the school assembly brought Max to a crowd that was now listening to Jefferson on the stage.
"Psychics are becoming more common and it's time for us to really take the time to put study into these anomalies." Jefferson said, "Which is why we're opening a new elective dedicated to learning more about this subject."
From a little Psychic club to now a new elective spearheaded by Jefferson?
Max felt sick to her stomach.
Things were definitely changing with each rewind and she was starting to genuinely fear how unrecognizable the world was going to be if she kept doing this.
But Chloe was still alive here. She and Rachel just needed to be stopped from meddling with Jefferson. They needed to be as far away from him as possible in order to truly be safe.
"If you believe yourself to have psychic ability and wish to further understand yourself and gain better control of what you can do, please volunteer yourself for this program so we can help you." Jefferson continued. "I promise I can help you. I've spent my life documenting and interviewing people like you."
Working her way through the crowd, Max finally caught sight of Chloe and Rachel whispering to each other.
"Chloe, he can help."
"I'm not sure if I trust him."
"Chloe, I'm scared of hurting people. If there's a way then maybe-" Rachel stopped, realizing Max was there.
Catching sight of their held hands and intertwined fingers shouldn't have sent a bitter pang through Max, but it did. She tried to regain her composure and gather her thoughts.
"What do you want, Max?" Chloe's hostile tone indicated they still weren't friends in this timeline.
"Please promise me you won't go to Jefferson?" Max tried not to let herself get affected by the coldness in Chloe's eyes.
"Why? Do you want to call dibs on him?" At Rachel's laugh, Max had a sinking feeling that she was already set on seeing Jefferson."You don't know what you're talking about, Max."
Not sure if she was reading too much into Rachel's tone, but Max had a feeling that there was a chance Rachel had already started seeing Jefferson behind Chloe's back.
"Why are you even talking to me now?" Chloe asked. "Last I checked, you made it pretty clear you weren't interested."
Lifting a hand, Chloe shook her head. "Too little, too fucking late, Max."
"Jefferson's dangerous, I'm warning you." Max was starting to feel the pull of the present and began to panic. "He's not going to help with anything you think he'll help with."
The suspicion and hostility in Chloe's eyes seemed to soften. "You warned me about that before. But then I-"
"Just stay away from him!" Max head the desperation in her own voice just as she felt herself being pulled back into the present, most likely into an entirely new timeline.
FLASHBACK; CURRENT TIMELINE
The tension in the air felt thick and suffocating as Chloe tried to focus on eating despite the knots in her stomach. No matter how good the cooking was, Chloe couldn't even taste it while she felt this uncomfortable. The silence was pressing into her ears while the clatter of utensils and the ticking of the clock seemed to echo throughout the dining room.
"So… Chloe?" Mrs. Amber's voice broke the silence and Chloe wasn't sure if that was or wasn't a good thing. "Are you and Rachel in any of the same classes?"
Chloe shrugged. "Not really."
Wells nearly expelled Chloe and she was ready to take the fall for their stupid little adventure, but Rachel refused to leave Chloe in the dust, insisting and persuading until Wells gave in to giving Chloe one last chance. If only in the hope of letting Rachel's great school performance rub off on Chloe instead of the other way around.
Another uncomfortable silence settled over the table.
"What about that fire?" Mrs. Amber wondered.
Rachel coughed into her glass and struggled to regain her composure enough to stammer out, "Dinner's really good, Mom."
Mrs. Amber smiled. "Thank you, Rachel."
They were quiet again. Chloe tried to keep her thoughts focused on their wild plan of running away after dinner, but the heaviness of the dining room was overpowering.
Seeming to feel it too, Mrs. Amber spoke up. "That fire... the way it spread so fast…" She frowned. "It couldn't have been a purely natural incident."
"They suspect a psychic triggered it." Mr. Amber gave Rachel a pointed look.
Panic in her eyes, Rachel looked to Chloe for help.
"It's… yeah. I wonder why someone would do that." Chloe heard how stupid she sounded as she floundered for something to say. "It's… uh… It's pretty scary."
The flash of hurt in Rachel's eyes made Chloe feel guilty about the honesty that slipped into her comment.
"Any number of reasons." Mr. Amber said, casting another glance at Rachel before returning his attention to his food. "With everything going on in the world today, even a town like Arcadia Bay isn't immune to the ills of society. It's a dangerous world out there."
Mrs. Amber nodded. "Which is why I hope you can be very careful, Rachel."
Rachel kept her eyes down and her shoulders remained tense.
"Now that you two are friends, I hope you can look out for each other. Especially considering all that's going on lately with the Prescotts and the psychics and the authorities…" Mrs. Amber's eyes showed nothing but worry and a deep love for her daughter. "I hope we don't get caught up in the middle of it."
Mr. Amber reached out and put a hand over his wife's.
Chloe didn't miss the way Rachel glared at it.
"It's imperative, in such troubled times as these, that we remember what is most important to us- family." Mr. Amber said, launching into a tone that Chloe found all too familiar. Some adult ready to give some longwinded sermon about life. "Family is not merely a gift. It's a responsibility."
Rachel's hands were tensing up and Chloe realized the stillness in the air was shifting. A breeze seemed to be coming into the house despite the closed doors and windows.
"As such, those we love must be cared for. And never, ever taken for granted."
Reaching out a hand under the table, Chloe placed it over Rachel's knee, hoping the contact would calm her. "Uh… yeah. That's super true. And also remember, Rachel, that even when shit's like… the lamest ever… you can always run away from what's bothering you."
She alluded to their plan to run away from this hellhole. Rachel was all for it just a moment ago. If Chloe could just keep her calm enough, then they would be out of here in no time.
"As long as you just keep calm." Chloe punctuated the words, looking directly at Rachel.
Rachel looked at her, still tense, still pained, still distraught.
"Interesting philosophy, Chloe…" Mrs. Amber sounded like she was just trying to be polite.
Mr. Amber all but scoffed. "Yes, indeed. Not one that I would endorse, however. I favor confronting my problems head on." He shrugged condescendingly. "But to each their own, I suppose."
"Oh, fucking blow me." Rachel grumbled, throwing a scathing look at her father before looking back down at dinner.
"Rachel!" Mrs. Amber looked scandalized.
Another heavy silence fell over the table as Mr. Amber looked from his wife to his daughter and back. The look on his face was somewhere between disgusted and perplexed.
Chloe felt her heart pounding against her chest and the tick of the clock seemed louder than ever as Rachel glared at her father, challenging him to say something.
In a panic, Chloe tossed her fork off the table and nudged Rachel. "Ah crap, I'm so clumsy. Rachel, can you come help me find another fork?"
"Stop it, Chloe." Rachel interrupted, then turned to her father. "I can't sit here and listen to this bullshit anymore."
"Rachel!" Mr. Amber barked.
The breeze seemed to be picking up, not enough to really blow things around, but enough for Chloe to notice how it felt on her skin.
"Stop it, Dad." Rachel snapped back, "You're a hypocrite, okay? I know!"
Mr. Amber's brow furrowed as he shook his head and prepared to defend himself, but Rachel didn't give him a chance.
"You lying, cheating, piece of shit motherfucker!"
"Excuse me?" Anger and shock shone in Mr. Amber's face.
The blowing wind grew stronger, seeming to encircle the table as it blew hair and napkins around.
"Rachel…" Mrs. Amber seemed to notice it too and reached out to try to placate her daughter, but Rachel pulled her hand back and continued to glare at her father.
"We saw you! Yesterday. At the overlook." Rachel looked to Chloe for backup. She nodded but didn't say anything. This was Rachel's floor and Chloe didn't want to make this any worse than it already was.
Mrs. Amber turned to face her husband. "James?"
"Kissing that woman." Rachel continued.
Mrs. Amber's eyes narrowed. "James."
The wind was picking up now, surrounding them.
Despite the anger that showed clearly in his tense shoulders and clenched fists, Mr. Amber kept his voice cool as he focused on calming Rachel down. "Rachel, honey, whatever you saw or think you saw… I know it's hard, but I need you to trust me."
"Think we saw?" Chloe felt rage course through her and could no longer keep her mouth shut. "Are you trying to gaslight us? There's no thinking involved- we saw you locking lips with some other woman."
Going in for the kill, Chloe added, "Best part is, she and I use the same drug dealer!"
"That's enough!" Mr. Amber stood up, no longer able to keep back his own rage now too. "You are not welcome here or around my daughter any longer. I knew exactly what kind of person you were from the moment I saw you, and I let my wife's compassion get the better of me."
"Oh?" Chloe leaned forward. "What kind of person is that?"
"A delinquent." Mr. Amber slammed his palms down on the table. "A broken girl from a broken home."
"That's enough, James!" Surprisingly, Mrs. Amber stood up to face him down. "I will not have you continue to speak to her like this."
The wind grew stronger and the Amber parents seemed to fight against it to stay upright as they argued. Chloe found herself standing up as well, pushing back against the wind as she defended herself and hurled insults without thinking.
"Rachel, shut off your little special effects and go to your room!" Mr. Amber was shouting at Rachel, "Stop them right now!"
"Don't fucking talk to her like that!" Chloe put a hand on Rachel's shoulder. "She can do whatever the fuck she wants."
"I've had it with you!" Mr. Amber jabbed a finger in Chloe's direction. "Get out of my house!"
A powerful burst of wind and energy shattered the table and threw everyone against the wall. Chloe was slammed into the china cabinet and scrambled away just before it toppled forward.
Then the wind stopped and the air was still again.
Rachel stood over her father, who had crashed into the painting and was now crouched on the floor.
"Why can't you just tell me the fucking truth?" Rachel demanded. "Stop lying. Stop being a politician for one fucking minute."
From her position, standing over him, fists clenched, Rachel looked just about ready to send another blast of wind at Mr. Amber. He pressed himself against the wall, looking terrified.
Then Rachel fell to her knees and lowered her head, the weight of everything crashing down on her as she spoke in a broken voice. "Can't you just… be my dad?"
"Rachel…" Mr. Amber tentatively reached a hand over to touch Rachel's shoulder. "That woman you saw… that wasn't my mistress. That was your mother. And she was a psychic too."
The last few shifts had been uneventful for the most part. More training with David, but not a lot of talking. Chloe avoided it like she avoided the subjects' quarters in the lower floors. She wasn't ready to see anyone's faces just yet and she wasn't ready to discuss 219 or Kate or Steph with David either.
And she hated how it hit her that she had a choice whether or not she wanted to be down in the lowest floor. They didn't.
They just lived there, sitting on their beds, waiting for their next test.
Chloe pressed her face into her palms as she sat at the edge of her bed. The idea of somehow setting them free was powerful and threatened to consume her, but the fear of fucking it all up and making things worse for herself and for everyone was just as overbearing.
A knock on her door broke through her thoughts.
Mom peeked in. "You okay, Chloe? You... you seem to be distracted lately."
There was worry and fear in her eyes, and Chloe didn't doubt that Mom still thought about that night four years ago, when she found her daughter lying still and no longer breathing.
"I…" It was tempting to open up, tempting to unload all of the overwhelming thoughts, but Mom wasn't exactly in the best of shape to handle stress. "I'm fine."
The pain in Mom's watery eyes made Chloe feel like a terrible human being. "Please just don't forget that you can talk to me about anything, okay?"
Chloe nodded, looking down at the floor because it hurt too much to look Mom in the eye.
"Keeping things to ourselves and internalizing all the stress and pain is what pushed us all to breaking points and please, Chloe… I don't want a repeat…"
"I know…" Chloe nodded again and forced herself to look at Mom. "I'm… I'm not fine, to be honest. But… but I'm not ready to talk about it just yet. Is that okay?"
Mom nodded, and though she still looked worried, she thankfully chose not to push. "I understand."
She closed the door, leaving Chloe alone with her thoughts once more.
I have outlines for the next chapters but haven't started yet so I might need a little time before I can update but feel free to bug me on my socials.
HELLO FRIENDS I AM BACK AFTER.. a lot of things happened. Long story short I got a new job and moved from the Philippines to Canada. Got into a new relationship with a cute girl, moved in with said cute girl, got a puppy with said cute girl. And I'm now in the process of getting my employer to extend my work permit so there's that.
BUT I wanna get back into this world and finish what I started.
Also trigger warning for a revisit of Kate's rooftop scene.
And I've gotten a request to give some form of chapter summaries so y'all don't have to reread all the previous chapters. Instead put together a little flowchart for all of Max's timehopping
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
It took a little creativity.
But resolving to finally get it over with was what drove Chloe forward.
She spent several days tracking the shifts of the other guards, and taking note of their patrol rounds. Logan Robertson and Zachary Riggins tended to make their rounds together, but split mid-shift before meeting up again on the last patrol round. Both took the night shift exclusively, as far as Chloe observed. Zach's night off was tonight, so Logan would be on his own and if Chloe was right about how he patrolled, he would be in the upper floors right about now.
Skip was supposed to patrol the lower floors now, but Chloe managed to convince him she had it covered.
Which now brought her to this moment, standing outside 219's room.
Chloe didn't want to believe that this was really Max.
Aside from feeling like she wasted time and energy grieving the death of her best friend, Chloe also couldn't begin to comprehend how many years Max spent living here as a prisoner, as a lab rat with a number instead of a name.
Rachel was terrified of this place, and the more Chloe saw of it, the more she understood why.
Taking a deep breath to steady herself, Chloe stepped forward, bringing her face just in front of the little glass square that allowed guards to check on the subjects.
And the sight inside stunned her.
Where there was once a shaggy mop of brown hair, what could be seen now was an exposed head of closely cropped hair.
It made the girl look even smaller, skinnier. More pathetic.
Noticing Chloe, the subject looked in her direction but didn't make any move to come closer. There was an exhausted, almost defeated look about her. Worse than what Chloe had seen when they first made contact with each other.
"Looks like we both got a hairstyle change over the weekend, didn't we?" The ghost of a smile played at the subject's lips, but there was too much pain and sorrow to allow it to linger. "Although I think your makeover is a little bit more flattering than mine."
"I..." Chloe swallowed. "I had to get rid of the blue because of protocol."
The subject shrugged. "I figured as much."
"Why did they...?"
"I passed out during one of the tests." She rubbed at her brutally short hair. "It's easier to plug in scanners when it's this short. And it's... It's been a while since my last trim anyway."
This wasn't how Chloe pictured their conversation playing out. She half expected the subject to be eagerly pawing at the window like she did the last few times - desperate to explain herself and urge Chloe to believe that she was Max.
"You still don't believe I'm Max, do you?"
Well that sure caught Chloe by surprise.
She shifted her weight and bit her bottom lip, chewing on her thoughts, trying to figure out how to go about asking the long stream of questions that now felt like a jumbled mess of emotions.
"What was our favorite game as kids?"
"Pirates." The subject's brow furrowed as she blinked several times, her eyes becoming shiny. She shook her head. "Chloe... You should leave."
After spending an embarrassing amount of time planning this out, Chloe knew she had to take advantage of every minute she'd managed to buy. "When was the last time we played together?"
The subject huffed. "In this timeline?"
Chloe frowned, "I... Guess? Yeah... This timeline."
"It was before..." The subject wiped at her damp eyes but managed to keep her voice even and steady. "I think it was before the crash."
Fighting back the nausea that welled up whenever she remembered the accident, Chloe forced herself to ignore the rapidly increasing pace of her heart. "How did you get out of it alive?"
"It was a long time ago..." The subject shrugged. "I wound back to save you, then tried to wind back again after."
Flashes of the explosion blasted through Chloe's mind. Her arm tingled in the places where bones broke from being thrown out of a moving car. There was almost a shimmer of heat going through her skin as she recalled the abrasions from the asphalt and the slicing pain of the debris.
"Couldn't... Couldn't you have saved my dad too?"
"I tried, Chloe." The subject stood up from her bed with more force than Chloe had ever seen before. "You don't think I tried? I'm- Chloe, I'm in here because I-"
Catching herself, the subject bit her lip and shook her head.
"Because what?" Chloe pressed a hand against the glass. "What do you mean?"
"Chloe, please just get as far away from this place as possible." The subject walked over to the door until they would have been at a distance where they could have touched each other if it wasn't for the heavy door between them. "Go someplace where you can be happy. There's nothing but misery here."
What did that even feel like? Because at this point, the closest Chloe could find herself getting to ever achieving it was through a drunken stupor. But even that came with a hangover and a shit ton of guilt as a consequence.
"This is a world where I can never be happy. Anything good in my life gets taken away. First Max and my Dad. Then Rachel. And now my Mom is probably coming next and-"
Concern washed over the subject's face. "What's happened to Joyce?"
"Nothing." Chloe grit her teeth and looked away. "She'll... She'll be fine." That was a lie and the subject could probably tell.
"Chloe..." The subject put a hand on the glass. "I wish there was something I could do..."
A shrug was the only response that Chloe could come up with.
"Long Max Silver will always look out for Captain Bluebeard, right?" A stiff, awkward smile accompanied the girl's attempt to cheer Chloe up. "I'm... I'm here, okay? As Long Max Silver, as BatMax, as Mad Max, as Super Max... Fuck even Subject 219," A bitter laugh accompanied the last one.
Chloe stared at the subject... At the girl with her hand on the glass. She knew too much to not be Max.
She knew their games, she knew the silly nicknames Chloe liked to come up with, she knew about her parents.
It couldn't not be Max... And it made sense if she used her powers to get out of the crash somehow. But why did she not come out after saving herself from the crash? Why did she let Chloe believe her best friend and her father both died in the same crash?
"Chloe... Even if I'm a complete stranger to you now... I still want to do what little I can do to make you happy."
"Max..." Chloe could barely believe she was actually using the name now. "What happened? I thought you died in that crash."
There was a look of pain in Max's eyes as she seemed to recall that day. "Chloe... I... I didn't mean to leave you behind. I never would have." She gestured with her hands, grasping for the words. "Just so much happened and I just- I had no control and I- it just..."
Beeping interrupted Max's fumbles at an answer.
Chloe fished her phone out of her pocket and stopped the alarm. "Look, I'm sorry, but I have to get moving on with my rounds. But I... I think I believe you."
The dampness was building up in Max's eyes again. "Chloe... Really?"
"And there's no way in hell I can keep you here after everything you've done for me." Chloe found herself promising the words without hesitation. "I'll figure something out. I'll see you, Max."
Not wanting to stretch things out any further, Chloe hurried off before Logan could show up and question her again.
FLASHBACK; ALTERNATE TIMELINE
"As far as I've researched, there are two main types of atypical abilities."
Max blinked several times, willing the sight before her to come into focus.
And that's when she regretted it.
She was in the classroom. The same ill-fated classroom where everything started.
"We have the psychics and we have the supernaturals."
Brow furrowing, Max felt hatred consume her at the sight of the man at the front of the classroom, giving a lecture and seeming to fascinate every student with his information. She grit her teeth and had to fight every bone in her body from giving in to the urge to hit him right between the eyes.
As satisfying as that would be, she couldn't just attack him when she didn't quite know what this timeline was like. Not just yet.
All she knew was that supernatural abilities were being researched.
And that was lightyears away from the reality she came from.
"The psychics are the ones we believe to have unusually developed neuropathways in their brains, allowing them to manipulate the world around them with their minds, or to manipulate the minds of others around them." Jefferson continued on with his lecture, "They can be fairly dangerous."
This was so surreal.
"Max." Jefferson seemed to finally notice that Max's mind was somewhere else. "What can you say about supernaturals?"
Not sure how to answer, Max stayed silent. She bit back the urge to snap at him, but also found herself floundering in confusion at what kind of a fucked up reality she'd somehow managed to create.
"Dr. Jefferson, if I may," Victoria of course had the answer.
Wait, Doctor Jefferson?
What, like did he have a PhD in studying supernatural phenomena?
What the fuck was this place?
"Supernaturals are almost the opposite of psychics. Instead of unusual brain chemistry, they have unusual bodies. They're more likely to exhibit unusual strength or senses or healing. A few have been known to have shapeshifting abilities." Victoria continued on with her answer to Doctor Jefferson's question.
"That's right." Jefferson nodded with that disgusting smirk on his face. "Thank you, Victoria."
The proud way Victoria tilted her head made it impossible for Max to resist rolling her eyes. If Victoria only knew how much of a monster Jefferson was then she wouldn't be so eager to please him. If Victoria only knew how hard Max fought to save her from Jefferson... If only-
"Max, can you tell me-"
Screams interrupted Jefferson's question and Max was almost relieved to be able to avoid contact with him. Instead she joined several students in rushing out to the window to see what was going on.
And that was when she regretted being thankful for the distraction.
A crowd of students and teachers had gathered in the courtyard, looking up and pointing at the roof of the building. Most of them were showing varying levels of horror and concern.
Because up on the roof was Kate Marsh.
A voice was distantly calling to her, just off the edge of her consciousness.
It got louder, nearer. The name echoing through her head.
Groggily sitting up, Max rubbed at her eyes and leaned against the wall her bed was bolted to. Sleep and fatigue were still pulling at her mind, but an external sense of fear and urgency kept her from drifting back into sleep.
"Kate, are you okay?" Even if it was possible to think her responses, Max still liked the feeling of verbally saying them. It was nice to use her voice once in a while, especially when there were hardly any opportunities to do so.
Max, I'm scared. All the words and the pictures- they're just all piling through my head and I can't breathe. I feel like I'm drowning.
Accompanying Kate's words were her feelings of terror and overwhelming stress, buffeting her like waves until she struggled to stay upright, both figuratively and literally. She was sitting on a chair of some sort, cuffed for safety reasons after the recent outburst. There was a pounding in her head and she couldn't concentrate on Jefferson's words.
"Hey, Kate, it's okay." Max kept herself level and calm, knowing that such stable emotions would carry over through the link with Kate and help ground her. "Focus. You can do this. Tell me what's happening."
We're running tests and he wants me to read the cards the assistants picked out and I just can't focus. He's been seeing me so much lately since you've been given a break and I'm just drowning. There's too much going on. Too many voices.
"We've done this before, we'll get through it again. Just breathe, Kate." Max was fully awake now, all sense of grogginess gone. A touch of guilt crept in as she realized that it made sense for Dr. Jefferson to be spending more time with other subjects since his most high-level one was put on a break by Dr. Grant. "I can feel you blocking things out and focusing on our link. Just keep doing that, okay? Just block everything out so we can let things in one by one."
I can feel how angry he's getting. He wants more from me and I don't know if I can give him more. Max, he's giving me that look. Max, I'm scared. Max-
"Block it out. Just... Just dissociate from it. Block out his mood and his thoughts. You've got this." Through the link, Max helped Kate picture building a wall around herself. Together, they set down each brick until the only remaining opening was their link.
"Okay, we're just about there."
There was still some of Jefferson slipping through the cracks, but it was manageable now. Kate's anxiety was leveling out. Her breathing was more even.
"Now let's nudge one of the bricks a bit so we can focus on one of the assistants. Does that sound good?" Max could picture herself holding Kate's hand and helping her choose which assistant to focus on first. "Warren's odd but his heart's in the right place, right? He's scatterbrained but his energy isn't as hard-edged as Victoria's. Are you okay with focusing in on him for now?"
They allowed Warren's thoughts to filter through a small gap in their wall.
He was thinking about the other subjects. About obscure and uncomfortable movies. Of... Max.
Cringing, Max edged away from Kate's wall and back towards the entrance to their link. "I... Think you've got things covered from here, right?"
I think so... I'm sorry you had to see that, Max.
"It's okay, Kate. You're doing great."
Thanks, Max. Waves of gratitude washed through the link and blanketed Max. Thank you so much.
"You're welcome." Max felt the link wavering as Kate finally found her voice and answered Jefferson's question- that Warren was holding a Queen of Hearts card. Kate could take it from here.
But Max stayed awake and was ready to help if Kate needed any again. It was the least Max could do after Jefferson used her time manipulating abilities to capture Kate before she jumped.
As much as it was a blessing to have been able to save Kate, it was also a curse to have to see her go through her draining sessions with the scientists.
FLASHBACK ; ALTERNATE TIMELINE
Straining to use her abilities after lacking so much sleep and abusing so much of her power, Max felt pounding pressure in her head as she managed to slow time to a stop.
The pain in her head was almost crippling but Max forced herself to stand up and stagger out of the classroom, through the hallways and up the stairs. Each step challenged her resolve, tempting her to fall and give up in a heap on the floor.
But after failing so much with Chloe, Max knew she couldn't fail Kate.
It was just unacceptable to fail again.
After what felt like an eternity, Max finally stumbled out onto the roof. Her legs wobbled underneath her and she lost her footing, scraping her hands as she caught herself on all fours.
Losing her grip on time, Max felt things come back to their regular pace but the voices downstairs still seemed all too loud, pounding at her skull with the migraine.
But she had to keep moving.
Max forced herself back to her feet and called out, "Kate, please."
"Max?" Kate turned around and the shock registered on her face as she took in Max's sudden appearance. "How did you-"
"It doesn't matter," Max heard her the gravel in her voice and cleared her throat as she took a step towards Kate. "Please... Don't do this."
"I'm tired, Max." Kate's eyes were shiny as tears streaked down her face. "I hear everything and I feel everything and I'm just so tired. I can't keep living like this." Her voice choked, but she continued, "I'm overflowing with what everyone's thinking and feeling and I'm not made to feel a million minds when my brain only has room for one."
Taken aback by this, Max's brow furrowed.
This was different.
The last time she was in this position with Kate, it was over Victoria's bullying and the strained relationship Kate had with her family.
Memories flashed through Max's mind of all the times she'd bumped into little signs, little changes. Psychic club being started by Sam. Psychic elective run by Jefferson. And now a psychic class taught by the expert Doctor Jefferson.
Was Kate psychic?
"Max, I don't understand... What... What's that other timeline you're thinking about?" The despair on Kate's face had given way to confusion. "You've been bouncing through... How many now?"
The way Kate was reading through Max's thoughts felt invasive, but she was still very much aware of how close Kate was to taking her life. "Kate, could you please step away from the edge?"
"No." Kate's voice hardened. "There's nothing here for me."
She had a strained relationship with her family, didn't she? But Max could recall that there was a bond with her father that was special to Kate. Would that be enough to coax her away from the edge? "Kate, I-"
"He doesn't care either!" Kate snapped. "He figured it out. They all did. They know I'm a freak. They know I can hear things. Feel things. I say things that don't make sense. I respond to things that nobody said. I'm-"
A sob broke through Kate as she turned back around to the edge. "I'm possessed by an evil power."
"Kate, no!" Max felt her own legs buckle once more. The pounding in her head was overwhelming her and she could feel her mouth covered in blood from her nose. "You're not alone, okay? I care. I'm here with you. I've made mistakes too."
So many mistakes. So many failures.
"I've been altering timelines trying to save Chloe and I keep fucking failing!"
This seemed to catch Kate's attention. She turned around to face Max once more. "Max... Didn't you hear what happened?"
There it was again. Bad news again.
"Max... I'm sorry... But they... They're gone. The police thinks it has something to do with Nathan. We saw them take him away."
"NO!" This couldn't be another failure. It just couldn't. Max felt herself crumble into a sobbing mess as it dawned on her how no matter how much she tried, the universe was going to keep taking Chloe away. That was the fate it chose for her and there was no other way to fix it.
Dimly aware of a hand on her shoulder, Max tried to suppress her sobs and regain control of herself, but it felt like her heart was breaking and her head was moments away from exploding. She didn't know how much more of this she could take.
"Kate, I'm sorry." Max clung to Kate, burying a damp and bloody face into her shoulder. "Kate, we'll get through this okay? I'll fix this. I'll fix this somehow."
It wasn't just Chloe's life that was at stake here. It was Rachel's too. And Kate's. And Nathan's. And who knew how many others.
At the end of the day, Max couldn't give up. She had to fix this.
One way or another.
No matter what it took.
So I am GLAD to be back and I'm kind of sorry for this heavy chapter. But that's the ride we're in for as these people fight for their freedom and happiness. SO hit me up on my socials (IG stefidelly or stefidelly.art ; tumblr thestefidelly or my site stefidelly.com also don't touch my discord coz i lost access to it lol) and bug me to update and I'm also always down for hearing your theories. Hope I didn't lose everyone in that long hiatus!
I AM STILL HERE FRIENDS. Here's another chapter. It delves a bit more into Max's journey here. Also, we make a bit more progress with plans being made for the fate of the subjects at the facility.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
"Chloe, how are you?"
"I don't know." Chloe surprised herself by answering Dana's question honestly. Almost as surprising as answering her call, given how rocky their last meetup was.
But Chloe did say they could meet again in two weeks or so. And it was just about time to plan that meetup.
"Did you see her again recently?"
Shaking her head and swallowing back the bile rising to her throat, Chloe managed to choke out an answer, "I don't wanna talk about it."
"Okay... Um..." Dana awkwardly changed the subject, "How bout our next meetup? Are you good with meeting at my apartment this Saturday?"
She still didn't really trust Dana and definitely hadn't forgiven Juliet.
But what choice did Chloe have? Max was a prisoner in that facility and even if Chloe had keycards and standard-issue gear, she didn't have the means to bust Max (and Steph and Kate) out of that place, let alone get away with it. They would need cash to get anywhere of safe and a shit ton of gas. Not to mention all the planning that would have to go into it. And Chloe had never been much of a planner if she were to be honest with herself.
And that was if they even made it out. Chloe was pretty sure the alarms would sound off the moment she opened the door to let Max out. That would leave no time to go grab Kate and Steph or anyone else.
Whatever ally Chloe could get on her side would have to do.
"Fine. Yeah. Text me the address." Before Dana could say anything else, Chloe wrapped up the call. "Bye."
Tossing her phone onto her bed felt good when it still felt dirty and wrong to be putting trust in Dana and Juliet. But with no other options, Chloe felt trapped with them.
If they made any move that fucked everything up and made Chloe regret deciding to cooperate with them... There would be hell to pay. It wouldn't even come close to the suffering Max and Steph and Kate and whoever else were going through in the facility.
Accompanying thoughts of the facility were the pitiful images of all the subjects Chloe had seen so far. They all looked like they barely got any food. The paleness to them suggested they never got time outside and the bags under their eyes showed how exhausted they always were from all the tests they had to go through.
Not to mention the bruises Chloe had noticed on them.
They were being treated less than gently in PRIPS and the thought made Chloe sick to her stomach.
Feeling the need to clear her head, Chloe made her way downstairs and was surprised to see Mom in the kitchen.
She was pale and her eyes were bloodshot like she'd been crying. The way she slouched into the dining table was a far cry from the strong stance she always used to have.
"Mom?" Chloe could barely keep her own voice steady as she approached the table. "Are you okay?" Seeing Mom like this was just heartbreaking and it made Chloe feel angry and helpless.
But who else could Chloe be angry at but herself?
"I'm fine." Sniffling and wiping at her eyes, Mom hurried to gather up the papers she'd spread out across the table. Chloe thought she recognized some of them as bills, as well as some of the prescriptions and notes from the doctor. "Don't worry about me, Chloe."
"It's okay." The smile Mom wore as she made eye contact with Chloe was almost convincing. "Anyway. Is there anything you wanted to talk to me about?"
There was a moment of hesitation as Chloe thought about the NDA, about Mom's fragile condition and how stress and her heart just could not mix, about the way Max looked so broken and starved, about the way Steph lashed out with anger and blame, about the way Kate was terrified and overwhelmed.
"Remember Max?" The words blurted out of Chloe before she could stop herself.
Now the smile looked sincere- with fondness and nostalgia. "How could I forget her? You two were inseparable."
"Then that... all that stuff happened." Chloe grit her teeth as she remembered the way blood just started soaking through Max's shirt. "I just... I was just wondering if anyone saw her body."
Mom shrugged, the pain in her eyes mirroring Chloe's. "It was a closed casket funeral, remember? And if..." Voice wavering, Mom paused to swallow and clear her throat. "...If it was anything like your father's, there wasn't much that could be recognizable. That tanker... The explosion..."
"They were probably both burned up worse than when the new chef fucked up everyone's bacon, huh?" Chloe felt her attempt at a joke fall flat.
A short, clipped chuckle was Mom's polite attempt at acknowledgement. "I think that new chef did a worse job than the tanker."
They both smiled stiffly and stopped there.
The heavy silence blanketing the kitchen felt suffocating.
Chloe felt her chest tightening up as memories rushed through her. The pain of loss felt like a fresh and open wound once more.
"Did you remember anything about what happened?" Mom was the one to break the silence.
"I just... I just remember Max suddenly bleeding. And Dad rushing to get her to the hospital and just..." Chloe hugged herself and slouched into her chair. "It all happened so fucking fast. But... But she saved me, Mom."
Mom nodded, her eyes watering. "She definitely saved you."
"Did they ever find who shot her?"
"I don't believe so."
Chloe sighed. Anger bubbled through the pain and sorrow. It must have been a stray bullet of some sort, for it to have hit Max out of nowhere. "The weird part is I don't remember hearing any gunshots. It was like she just suddenly started bleeding."
"Could have been a stray bullet from someone far enough out of earshot?" Mom shrugged. "I don't know, Chloe."
"The weird part..." Chloe's brow furrowed. "The weird part is how she kept apologizing."
"That's Max for you." Mom said, "She was always polite and tried not to be a bother."
"Yeah.." Chloe agreed but held back her thoughts of doubt. There was just something off about the way Max was apologizing so desperately. And the more Chloe thought about it, the more she recalled that Max was also babbling about wanting to save everyone and wanting to save Chloe.
And... she did save Chloe.
She felt her own eyes welling up with tears at the thought of Max fucking around with time and making sure Chloe was safe. And after everything Max had done, Chloe still tried to waste that sacrifice.
But how did she get from the crash to the facility?
There were gaps in Chloe's memory after the explosion. It could have happened at any time that Max may have been taken away.
Mom stood up and walked around the table over to Chloe to give her a hug.
It was warm and soothing and Chloe almost wished the moment could last forever.
FLASHBACK ; ALTERNATE TIMELINE
The first thing Max became aware of was the pounding pain in her head. It felt like hammers were banging against her temples while drills were digging in behind her eyes.
Then she realized she was lying down on some kind of bed.
Before Max could allow herself to relax, she became aware of metal around her wrist.
Her heart started to pick up its pace.
Max bit her lip and opened her eyes, willing herself not to make any sudden movements in case anyone was watching. In case Jefferson was nearby. The last thing she needed was to find herself in that cursed bunker again. There was no way in hell she was going to allow herself to be Jefferson's prisoner all over again.
But this wasn't the bunker.
Brow furrowing, Max realized she was in the clinic. On the other bed was Kate and it didn't take long for Max to take in that she was cuffed to the bed too.
Had they been sedated?
Footsteps caught Max's attention and she forced herself to relax and look asleep.
"Have they woken up yet?" That was Jefferson.
"No." David was the one who answered. "But I don't understand why they're being held here and why Kate isn't being rushed straight to a hospital. She nearly killed herself and-"
"I didn't ask for your opinion, Madsen." Jefferson's response was cold, with a clear hint of disgust in his tone that showed he considered himself above David. "You're just here to keep an eye on them until things can be sorted out. The sedatives should wear off soon."
"Sir," David's voice gave away patience that was wearing thin. "I've seen people attempt things like this and-"
"We're still making calls. If you have to know," Jefferson was probably rolling his eyes, "There's a possibility they'll be taken to a different facility. Where experts can assess Ms. Marsh's abilities as well as investigate how Ms. Caulfield made it to the rooftop so fast. They're not ordinary humans like your little platoon, so I'd appreciate it if you kept your opinions to yourself."
Max felt her heart beat rapidly and painfully against her chest while her blood ran cold.
She had to get herself out of here somehow and fix this. Whatever they were planning to do to Kate wasn't good and Max had to fix whatever she fucked up in this timeline.
"Hey." Jefferson pushed past David.
Max realized she'd opened her eyes and they'd noticed. They were coming towards her now and she had to think quickly.
"After the whole thing with the Baelfire Research Center, there's been a bunch of other protests and even a few other minor breakouts in other facilitiess." Dana hooked her laptop up to her TV to show clips of the other facilities. Most of them seemed to be much bigger and grander than PRIPS. "What's interesting is that the crew that broke out have been doing a pretty good job of controlling media and public opinion."
Dana scrolled through thumbnails of the leaked footage of the werewolf nearly drowning as scientists tried to trigger her transformation; of when they sliced her open to analyze the rates at which she healed; of when they broke a telekinetic's arm because they knew she'd found a way to heal herself; of when a guard was tortured for being part of the escape; of when a telepath was beaten by a guard for being uncooperative...
Chloe recognized most of the footage from when she'd binged them. They were all hard to watch. And she couldn't help but think about how the people trapped at PRIPS were being treated just as badly.
"Their team has been continuing to leak footage from the facility records and for every article that pops up about how psychics and supernaturals aren't human, five more come up about rights for them and calls for humane treatment." Dana showed the headlines of different articles from several sites and publications.
Next, Dana showed pictures of protests being held outside of Bealfire, as well as outside of other facilities.
"Because of how the videos and articles are swaying peoples' views, people have started staging protests. And there's also been news of some staff going on strike. This has led to most remaining subjects being relocated and facilities being shut down as investigations begin." Dana let her words sink in for a moment.
Everything that led up to and came after the Baelfire Breakout must have taken a great deal of hard work and planning. The thought of it was daunting.
But the more Chloe thought about Max, Steph, Kate and anyone else trapped in there, the more Chloe knew that it had to be done.
"The same thing could happen to PRIPS- getting them shut down and investigated- if we play things just right." Dana continued, "The tricky part is that the Prescotts control most of the town, so what we might have to do is bring the facility conditions beyond the border. Make sure people outside know what's going on and hopefully a bigger organization will be able to help."
"What about breaking them out, though?" Chloe asked. So far, they'd only talked about shutting PRIPS down. Not about freeing any of the subjects.
"That's where you'll come in." Juliet answered, "You have access to everything inside the facility. If you can lead a strike among the staff after things have gotten more sympathetic-"
"No." Chloe interrupted. "No fucking way. I'm a fuckin newbie in there. Nobody's going to listen to me!" Nobody respected or even liked her there! Skip was probably the only one remotely fond of Chloe. And after working at the facility for so long and being under the Prescotts' thumb, Chloe was pretty sure nobody would be willing to stand with her if she started anything.
Juliet and Dana exchanged glances before looking at Chloe.
"What would you prefer to do?" Juliet asked.
"I want to just bust them out." Chloe said. "I'd rather plan a whole prisonbreak than a strike."
Dana seemed to take a moment to think over the idea before she put her hands on her hips and nodded. "Okay. Let's plan around that then."
Juliet nodded. "We want you on board here and if you think that's the best course of action for the safety of the subjects trapped there, then we believe you."
It genuinely surprised Chloe to see that they were on board. She fumbled for a moment before speaking, "Right.. Yeah. Thanks."
"This means tweaking our plan a bit, but I think we can still figure something out." Dana actually sounded confident.
It was exciting to start planning this out and Chloe found herself feeling driven in a way that she hadn't in a very long time.
But still, a sinking feeling of fear in her stomach made her worry about what could happen to herself if things went wrong. Or worse, what could happen to Mom.
FLASHBACK; ALTERNATE TIMELINE
"Hello, Max." Jefferson approached with a smile that looked like he'd nearly perfected pretending to be polite and concerned. It didn't work because she could see right through him. After all the bullshit she'd gone through, after watching Chloe dying just about a million different ways, Max did not have any patience left.
Lunging forward as far as the cuffs would allow, she grabbed at the keys at David's belt.
Before either David or Jefferson could react, Max wound back time, pushing past her fatigue until they were back at the doorway, and then further back to before Jefferson arrived.
Max's heart was beating hard and fast as she worked on the cuffs as quietly as she could, hoping and praying David wouldn't hear the jangling keys and clinking metal.
"Have they woken up yet?" Jefferson had arrived and was starting his conversation with David again.
"No." David gave the same answer. "But I don't understand why they're being held here and-"
"You idiot, get out of the way!" Jefferson's shout echoed through the clinic just as Max had finally managed to get herself free of the cuff. She turned to face them, lifting her hand up just as they were coming towards her.
They stopped in their tracks. Max felt the pounding pressure in her head as her power took effect, sending Jefferson and David back to their positions talking at the doorway. She kept pushing until Jefferson was several footsteps away.
That was when Max acted quickly, taking advantage of her element of surprise.
She barreled past David and tore down the hallway before Jefferson could realize what was happening.
Not stopping to take a breath, not pausing when her knees were buckling and her legs felt like jelly, Max made her way over to Jefferson's office, banging the door behind her and locking it.
She had to find something else. Some other picture to go into. There had to be some other way to save Chloe and Rachel from their fate. They didn't deserve to die in the Prescott bunker like that. They deserved better. Kate deserved better. This timeline was all kinds of wrong and Max had to figure it out and fix it.
Rifling through Jefferson's desk and file cabinets, Max tried to find something she could use. There were some case files he had of people known to have atypical abilities. People he'd either classed as "psychics" or "supernaturals."
Just as she found an image of herself among a group of other students, Max felt a sharp pain at the side of her neck before darkness ate at the edges of her vision. Her legs gave way under her and things all just faded to black.
Thoughts, reactions, theories are welcome as always! Love y'all!
FLASHBACK; CURRENT TIMELINE
The purple glow of the nightlight helped warm the room as Chloe held Rachel close.
"I think I need to see her." Rachel turned over to face Chloe. "Is that wrong?"
"Of course not." Chloe answered, then paused. "But it might be tough to track her down."
"Yeah... That's true." A small smile took shape on Rachel's tear streaked face. "Luckily, I've got my secret weapon."
Before Chloe got the chance to respond, Rachel's face fell and her brow furrowed. "But what if we can't find her? It's not like I can ask my dad." There was a hint of spite in her words as she mentioned her dad.
Even as he told his story tonight and basically came clean to his daughter about the lie they lived, there was still a condescending tone to it. He went on about Sera and basically called her a drug-addicted psychic. He claimed that Sera wanted to meet Rachel and that she tried to threaten him with her abilities. She was apparently good at making suggestions- essentially her power was mind-control.
Which was the whole reason why she'd slipped away from authorities for so long.
As far as Mr. Amber was concerned, Sera should be locked up in the Prescott facility or a place just liked it.
That only served to anger Rachel and it took both Chloe and Mrs. Amber's combined efforts to calm Rachel down and keep her from starting up a second storm in the living room.
"I have no idea where to start." Rachel sighed.
"I think I know what to do." There was just something about Rachel and their growing closeness that made Chloe want to do everything humanly possible to make her happy and give her whatever she wanted. "I'll call Frank and get him to connect us to her."
That seemed to improve Rachel's mood for only the briefest of moments before her next worry came up. "Even if we know where she is, we'd need a way to get to her." She rolled her eyes. "It's not like I can ask my parents for a ride."
This was an easy one and Chloe found herself smirking. "Don't worry. I've got that covered too."
"You do?" Rachel gasped.
"Yup." Chloe said, "Anything you can come up with- I'll handle it."
"You're one of a kind, Chloe Price." Rachel smiled, "I don't understand why Wells hates you so much."
Chloe shrugged, "Maybe he's just jealous of how much of a badass I am."
Rachel's smile faded as sadness and worry washed over her once more. "How will I know what to say? When I meet her?"
"You'll know." Chloe hesitated for a moment. She felt herself on the verge of sharing one of her most guarded secrets and the vulnerability of it all was terrifying. It was almost dumb. Or at least, Chloe worried that Rachel would think it was dumb.
But after tonight, and after the little adventures they'd gone on... Chloe felt like she could trust Rachel.
"Like with my Dad... And with Max. In... In a way, I still talk to them." The words came out slow and uncertain. Chloe waited for Rachel to laugh.
It genuinely surprised Chloe that Rachel responded sincerely, with no hint of mockery or amusement. "You talk to them?"
"In my dreams..." Chloe admitted. "Usually I'm in the car with them. Sometimes it's just my Dad. Sometimes it's just Max. Sometimes it's both of them."
"What do you talk about?"
Still touched and surprised by how well Rachel was taking the revelation without judgement, Chloe had to remind herself to answer the question. "Just random stuff sometimes. How my day went or whatever. Other times I ask them why they left me all alone..."
Rachel inched closer and rested her head on Chloe's shoulder. "What do they say?"
"I dunno... I... I usually wake up before they can answer. Or it's an answer that doesn't make sense."
"I think they're proud of you though." Rachel said, "I'm sure of it."
"I... I hope so."
FLASHBACK; ALTERNATE TIMELINE
The fogginess in her head made it hard for Max to think as she gradually became aware of her surroundings.
Her headache was worse than ever and now her neck and back were sore from being hunched over.
Trying to blink the grogginess away, Max leaned back against the chair and looked around.
Ice burned through her veins once she realized she was in the bunker. The very same Prescott bunker where things went so wrong so fast. Where horrors happened and where Rachel and even Chloe had died in several different universes.
It was the Dark Room.
"Good, you're awake." A flash of light accompanied Jefferson's voice.
Gritting her teeth, Max glared at Jefferson as he put away his camera. "You're sick and fucked up."
"You intrigue me, Max Caulfield." Jefferson strolled over to the couch and took a seat. "Tell me how you made it up to the roof so fast."
Max clenched her fists and tested the bindings. They were tight, almost cutting off circulation to her hands and feet. This was not going to be easy to squirm her way out of.
But she had to figure something out. Had to humor him somehow.
"If I tell you I'm a psychic, will you call it a day and let me go?"
"I've gathered that you have abilities, yes. But of what sort?" Jefferson made it a point to avoid directly answering Max's question. "Here's a question for you- who leads the drama club?"
The question caught Max off-guard and she found herself answering with genuine confusion. "Wasn't it Mr. Keaton?"
The look of intrigue on Jefferson's face made Max's skin crawl. "There is no drama club. It was dissolved to make room for the paranormal studies program. Can you tell me who else is in the class?"
"Was Rachel Amber taking the class?" Jefferson started rifling through a binder on the coffee table. "Let me answer that for you- yes, she was."
"What did you do to her?" Still fighting the grogginess and disorientation, Max put force into her words. "I know you're the reason why she's dead!"
Jefferson had a picture in his hand. He walked over and placed it on Max's lap, giving her a chance to take a good look at it.
It was Rachel. In this very room, bound to this very chair. She was drenched- her hair sticking to her face and her clothes clinging to her hunched over body.
"I don't know if you'll remember but Rachel was one of our favorite case studies. She had the ability to manipulate wind and produce fire. In some ways, her powers could almost mimic changes in the weather." Jefferson continued while Max continued to stare at the picture. "I also don't know if you'll recall that you apparently warned Chloe Price about me and instilled in her a very inconvenient sense of paranoia."
"What happened to Kate?" Max hadn't forgotten how scared Kate was. And if Jefferson had any control over her fate, then Max had to help her and save her. "What did you do with her?"
Jefferson shrugged. "She's in another room down the hall. You're more interesting so I wanted to interview you first."
"What then? Are you going to kill us like you killed Chloe and Rachel?" Each mention of Chloe's death still felt like a dagger to Max's chest.
"That was an accident and mostly Nathan's doing. I was running some tests with Ms. Amber when she started a fire she couldn't control. Naturally, that activated the sprinklers and I had to restrain her since she was hysterical." There was an uncomfortable sense of pride to Jefferson as he narrated the events that led up to the night Chloe and Rachel died. "I took a moment to take a picture- there's still a bit of a photographer in me even after I'd switch my focus to paranormal studies."
He sounded so smug and proud. And not at all like he was talking about people who died here.
"Just as I'd taken the picture, that meddling Price girl came in with Nathan in tow. She pointed a gun at me, but it was easy enough to remind Nathan of his place and get him to take the gun away from her." Jefferson's face betrayed no remorse. "Things got messy. The gun misfired at Rachel. Chloe tried to charge at Nathan and he shot her too."
FLASHBACK; CURRENT TIMELINE
"So how'd you get away from the raid?" Chloe toyed with her dice, stacking them one over the other.
Steph scoffed, "It was pretty easy. When a cop grabbed my arm, I just made him see spiders crawling up his sleeve."
Chloe grimaced, knowing she herself would have felt her skin crawl if she suddenly saw a swam of spiders crawling all over her.
There was a smirk on Steph's face as she put up her dungeon master's screen and started preparing her notes. "You can imagine how fast he let go and started dancing around. That made it pretty easy for me to just keep running."
"Must've been scary though, right?" Mikey's brows were creased as he got his miniature and his dice ready for their game.
Steph shrugged, "I mean it was a little scary, I guess. But after a while it just gets old."
Before Mikey could say anything else on the matter, Steph spoke again, looking at Chloe, "What about you, though? Chloe, I saw you out there with Rachel Amber. What was it like? She pretty much saved your ass."
Chloe let out a self-conscious laugh. "I was doing pretty fine before she came in."
"Oh really?" Steph raised an eyebrow. "Your blackeye says otherwise. And do I have to remind you I had to step in before he could finish destroying that pretty face?"
A blush heated up Chloe's face as she fought back her body's reactions to Steph's double whammy of a cute compliment and a sick burn.
"Okay, um, first of all- I was holding my own and I gave his nuts a good kick before then. Second of all- I was keeping him from stabbing you and-"
"Yeah, yeah, you were badass. We get it, Chloe." Steph rolled her eyes but couldn't fight the smile playing at her lips. "Still, you have to tell me- what was it like with Rachel after? Did you give your savior a kiss? Do you think she plays for our team or nah?"
That only made Chloe blush deeper.
But before she could say anything else, Mikey stood up and interrupted them. "What were you guys doing there anyway?"
"Hey man, just take it easy, okay?" Chloe was caught off guard by Mikey's outburst but tried to placate him, "Are you-"
"Don't you think it's dangerous? To be hanging around where so many other psychics go? Like specially when the cops are looking for every excuse to round you guys up? Don't you think-"
"Mikey, it's fine." Steph reached over and put a hand over his. "I can take care of myself, okay?"
Mikey looked like he had doubts about it but decided against pushing forward with his argument.
As tempting as it was to go back down to the subjects' quarters and sneak a visit to Max, Chloe had to remind herself to hold back and resist giving in to the impulse. For now it would be better for her to really plan her moments with Max and make sure nobody caught her.
Especially considering the fact that Juliet and Dana were already starting to make posts about the facility.
They didn't quite have a solid plan yet to get Max, Steph and Kate out (and whoever else). That both scared and frustrated Chloe.
She wanted to take action now and bust them all out now but this was a delicate situation that needed planning and precision. They still needed to brainstorm more and gather more intel.
Which was Chloe's assignment, really. She needed to find out as much as she could about the facility and its operations and where everything was. It of course helped that she was a guard with maps, keycards and handbooks.
Lost in her thoughts, Chloe hadn't been paying attention to where she was going and found herself bumping into someone.
"Oh, sorry, sir, I-" Chloe stopped. "Mikey?"
"Chloe?" Mikey's eyes were wide and his mouth hung open.
"What are you-"
"I work here." Mikey recovered from the shock and tried to regain his composure. He straightened out his button down shirt. "I'm a tech assistant."
Looking left and right, Chloe lowered her voice. "Is Drew here?"
Mikey's expression changed then. He grit his teeth and waved his hands for her to stop talking. "Don't say anything. Just don't, okay? I work here to make sure he doesn't end up here. Now shut up before anyone else hears!"
Taken aback by the aggression in Mikey's whispered words, Chloe didn't respond right away.
"Are you a guard here?" He asked, probably taking in her appearance- uniform and all.
"Do you know Steph is here?" Chloe didn't bother to answer Mikey's question. There were more pressing things to think about.
That was when Mikey's face fell as a hurt and sorrow seemed to settle in his eyes. "She won't talk to me. After what happened, I can't blame her for not forgiving me."
"Wait, what-" Chloe blinked. "Did this happen while I was away at-"
"Yes." Mikey answered curtly. "And no, I don't want to talk about it. If you'll excuse me, Chloe, I have to get back to work."
He walked off before Chloe could ask anything else.
Chloe believed her.
In this cold and isolated prison, where Max had resigned herself to her fate...
Chloe believed Max.
The thought of it warmed Max's heart and even if the meeting had been far too short and ended much too abruptly, it gave Max some hope. It brought some light and life back into her soul and it brought Max to the realization that she'd been barely alive for years.
There was almost a promise in Chloe's words as she hurried away. A promise to free Max somehow.
Several meals had passed since they last talked (there wasn't much of a way to tell time down here other than how many meals or how many tests have come and gone).
Still, Max still felt the warm glow of hope.
And whatever Chloe was planning, Max was going to insist that other subjects be helped too.
You're getting out? Kate's thoughts wormed their way into Max's mind. Sorry, I didn't mean to pry... I was just feeling lonely and my mind was going places and you always help me with clearing my head.
"No worries, Kate." Max reassured her. In another life, it would feel intrusive to have someone pop in and out of your head uninvited, but at this point Max enjoyed the visits and the company. It made life here a lot less lonely. "What's up?"
What was that about getting out? Kate's curiosity was accompanied by a guarded sense of hope and excitement. Did Chloe believe it was you?
"Take it easy, Kate." As excited as Max herself was, she didn't want anyone to get too eager. The last thing anyone needed was for the guards to notice changes in their prisoners and put a stop to whatever Chloe was planning. "Chloe seems to believe me, yeah, and I think she wants to help get us out but there's nothing set in stone just yet."
Worry and fear mixed their way into Kate's slivers of hope.
"Was there something else you wanted to talk about, Kate?" Max tried to change the subject, knowing there was usually something on Kate's mind when she popped in. It just so happened that Max's own thoughts of hope and freedom knocked Kate off her track.
Oh. Yeah. A different kind of worry filtered through the link. I think they're going to start tests on you again. I've been hearing Jefferson get really excited. He has some things planned, Max. Some tests with Nathan.
Sometimes I think about how I'm basically writing three stories and weaving them together. There's Max's flashbacks detailing how she ended up in this universe. There's Chloe's flashbacks detailing how she got to the point where she's at now. And then there's the present storyline. It's an interesting challenge and I'd love to hear from you guys how you're feeling about these three stories.
I wonder how long I can keep up these weekly updates. WE SHALL SEE.
This chapter dives a bit more into present circumstances for some of the subjects, as well as Chloe's past with Rachel. In this story, Rachel does have a pretty good relationship with Chloe at first, but paranoia and fear starts to get the better of her. It's at a point in time when psychics in Arcadia Bay are starting to be collected by PRIPS and studied by Jefferson the head scientist.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Max hissed as Logan pulled the straps tighter than they needed to be. He did a final check to make sure she was secure before walking over to take his stationed spot at the corner of the room.
"Comfortable?" Jefferson asked.
"We could switch so you'll know how comfortable being strapped to a chair really is." Max muttered, looking away from him. Already, her hands were starting to feel numb. She flexed her fingers in an attempt to retain mobility.
Jefferson grabbed Max by the jaw, forcing her to look at him. "Let's not get mouthy, 219. You do remember we have some very particular instruments to keep you in line, don't you?"
The guards handling her roughly when she fought back was one thing. A hit here or there was bearable enough. But the tasers and electric prods that Jefferson and the guards kept at their hips was a different matter altogether.
Max's stomach churned as she recalled the last time she'd been given shocks for fighting back against the guards.
"I remember." Max sighed, knowing there was no way to win right now.
She just had to hang on until Chloe figured something out.
"Good." Jefferson kept his grip on her face for a moment longer, as if to remind her of how she really had no power here. "Now sit tight while we get the other subject ready."
When Jefferson let go, Max grit her teeth and leaned back against the chair.
"We have an interesting test in store for us today." Jefferson continued as the doors opened to let the guards and the other subject in. "And I think it's going to be a prime time to track down another psychic fugitive."
"No..." Max whispered, feeling her heart sink and her shoulders drop. They couldn't be using her again. The whole reason they got to Kate in this universe was because of Max. They made her freeze time so they could get to Kate before she jumped.
They even used Max to track down a little boy.
He probably wasn't even ten yet. Younger than Max and Chloe were when William died and everything went to shit.
"What was that, 219?" Jefferson asked.
"Nothing." Max mumbled. She tried to get her mind off of the subjects she'd helped catch by looking at who they would be running tests with.
It was Nathan.
He was squirming and struggling against the guards and they were being noticeably more tolerant of his struggles than they had ever been with Max.
"He's upset with me. He's attacking. He's after me. He's angry." Nathan was rambling out short, clipped sentences in between gasps for breath as the guards strapped him down to another chair across Max. "He's going to get me. He's after me. Don't let him get me."
Looking at him, Max could see his eyes were unfocused, like he wasn't quite here.
He was having visions again.
"No!" Nathan flinched and his hand came free from a guard's grasp. Instead of dealing any punishing blows or making threats with their tasers, they just wrestled his arm back down until his wrists were secured. "Leave me alone!"
It had been a while since their last round of testing. Nathan looked older- the bags under his eyes were heavier and his cheeks looked even more sunken and hollow. His hair had been recently shaved too, although there was a light stubble forming on his face.
Every time she saw another subject, it hit Max how they'd been living here, in these conditions, for years.
"Nathan," Jefferson positioned himself in front of Nathan, who was still squirming and flinching. "Nathan, can you hear me?"
"Dr. Jefferson?" Nathan's eyes were still unfocused, but his head turned side to side, as if he was trying to find the source of the voice. "Are you there?"
"I'm here." Jefferson spoke in a slow, even tone, "Now I need you to tell me what you see."
"Drew." Nathan gasped. "Drew North. Waving a book at me. Calling me sick. I'm not sick. I'm not. I'm just not. I'm not!"
Nathan started squirming and struggling more violently, his face red and his knuckles white.
The machines in the lab started beeping, drawing Jefferson's attention away from his lab rats.
"Sir, should we sedate him?" One of the assistants asked. He looked worried as he adjusted his glasses. "His readings are... Um..."
"No." Jefferson answered. "He can get through this."
"He's after me! Get him away from me!"
Turning his back on the assistant, Jefferson brought his focus back to Nathan, whose struggles had grown even more frantic. Even from here, Max could see bruises forming where the straps touched his skin.
"Nathan, look around. Where are you?"
His breathing was ragged, coming in too fast and Max was genuinely worried.
Whoever Nathan was in all the other universes she'd seen him, in this one, he was just about as much of a prisoner as the rest of them. He may have been a spoiled rich kid in the beginning, but at this point, as they've continued to have tests together, as he continued to live a dark and desolate life here, it was pretty clear he had long ago fallen out of his father's good graces.
According to Kate, Nathan would think a lot about how he was now the family embarrassment and deep dark secret, locked away in this facility.
"I'm at the school. At Blackwell. I think." Nathan swallowed audibly, still struggling to breathe in between his clipped, fragmented sentences. "This is the past. I think. Another timeline. I think. I can't- Jefferson, I can't breathe. I can't-"
"Just breathe, Nathan." There was a hint of impatience in Jefferson's voice. "Just keep breathing."
The wheezy breaths filling the lab sure didn't sound like Nathan was managing all that well.
"It's still Blackwell. But it's different now. He's there again. He's using fire. He can do stuff with fire. He's burning me. He's burning me! GET HIM AWAY!" Blood was starting to drip from Nathan's hands onto the floor as he continued to thrash in his bonds.
Turning away from Nathan as if he wasn't getting dangerously close to dislocating or spraining some joints, Jefferson focused his attention on Max.
"I want you to stop time." Jefferson said it like it was an order he expected her to obey.
Max curled her lip. "Would it have killed you to maybe say please?"
"219." Jefferson's voice was dangerously low and his hand inched closer to the taser she knew was in the pocket of his labcoat. "Do you need to be coaxed into cooperating?"
"No." Max's shoulders sagged. She looked down at her cuffs and saw the light had switched to red. "I'll do it."
It started with pressure along her temples, then warmth spread down her body, collecting in her hands. The heat increased, becoming almost unbearable.
Then it released, and Max recognized the feeling of stopping time.
Nathan stopped squirming. He blinked several times but still didn't quite seem all there.
"He stopped burning me."
"That's right, Nathan." Jefferson could still move, given the earpiece he'd developed to essentially give himself immunity to her abilities. "Now I'm going to need you to concentrate and try to take control of your visions."
"O-okay." Nathan sounded hesitant, almost scared.
"Focus on Drew North and your environment." Jefferson said, "Can you tell if this is from our timeline?"
Nathan nodded, "I think so. It... It has the same... feel to it as ours. The one with the book and him and this punk girl arguing- that felt different."
"Can you tell when this takes place?"
"A few years ago. I think I recognize it as a memory, now that I can focus." Nathan answered.
"Good. Now can you focus on him and shift to the present?"
Nathan stiffened. "He's starting to move. What if he comes after me again? He's starting to move! MAKE HIM STOP!"
Before Max could realize what was happening, Jefferson had his hand on her jaw, forcing him to look up at her. "Do not let this slip through your fingers, 219."
Max swallowed back retorts and snarky remarks she wished she could say. The pressure in her head was building up and the wetness on her upper lip told her she was already getting a nosebleed. "I'm doing my best, Doctor Jefferson."
It was impossible to keep spite from slipping into the tone of her response, but she grit her teeth and stopped herself from saying more.
She needed to concentrate on keeping time still.
"Okay." Nathan gasped, still breathing heavily. "He's not moving anymore. But... Things are shifting. We're... We're somewhere else now."
The pressure in her head was getting worse. She couldn't breathe through the blood gushing out of her nose. Her body was trembling from the pressure of keeping time (and Nathan's visions) still.
"Sir, 219's vitals are-"
"If you speak out of turn one more time, so help me, I will fire you." Jefferson turned on the assistant, then his eyes widened when he looked down at the name plate on the assistant's labcoat. "North. Michael North. Are you in any way related to this psychic? Were you aware of his location this whole time?"
The assistant's mouth opened and closed several times before he stuttered out a response, "M-my brother... He... um... He r-ran away... after the incident with Nathan. And... And we-"
"It's... There are a lot of trees outside." Nathan continued, oblivious to the tension in the room. "It seems to be some kind of old house. He's looking at a map... Willamette National Forest. That's where he is."
Max couldn't keep the world still. The room was growing dark. The beeping machines seemed to be a lifetime away.
FLASHBACK; CURRENT TIMELINE
Rachel coughed, spluttering out puffs of smoke before passing the glass pipe back to Chloe. "I still haven't quite gotten used to it."
Inhaling deeply, Chloe let the warmness spread over her chest and cloud her head before she exhaled. "Where again did you say you got this?"
"From Frank, actually." Rachel took her turn and coughed less this time. "It was a little while ago and I haven't really talked to him since."
"Didn't think such a star student would be into smoking pot." Chloe smirked as she took the last few drags and lay back down. Her head was starting to feel nice and light.
"I kind of just wanted to try it." Rachel admitted. "And Frank seemed like an easy enough guy to get it from."
A part of Chloe was surprised to know Rachel had been in contact with Frank before, but she figured it wasn't a big deal. Most of Blackwell probably got their stuff from Frank too. There were rumors even that Nathan Prescott was one of his customers.
"I'm worried, Chloe." Rachel lay back down next to Chloe. "What if when we find her, it'll be too late? Things are heating up with the whole psychic thing and more people want us to get checked into that Prescott facility. What if they take Sera there? What if they catch her? What if they catch me?"
"Rachel," Chloe had to fight the fog telling her brain to just float away. "You're going to have to try and calm down. Let it relax you, okay?"
"Chloe, I can't." Rachel sat up, "I'm scared. What if- What if they start rounding us all up? What if we have to be registered and checked into that place? What if they lock us up there? Chloe, what if-"
"Hey, Rachel." Chloe forced herself to sit up and look Rachel in the eye. "Breathe."
The tension in Rachel's shoulders wouldn't ease when Chloe tried to massage them with her thumbs. "What if they got her already? My dad said he hoped she got caught and brought in. That's what he said!"
"Breathe." As much as Chloe wanted to just lie down and enjoy the high, it was impossible to do that while Rachel was just short of freaking out.
Already, she was starting to breathe faster than she should.
"Hey, breathe with me okay?"
Rachel's breathing only quickened then. "Chloe, I-it-what if-"
"Rachel, hey..." Worry over Rachel managed to slice through the fog and Chloe found herself feeling more present and aware.
The rapid breathing had escalated into actual hyperventilation. "Ch-Chloe. Can't. Breathe."
"Hey, stay with me. Just breathe. You're probably just having a panic attack." Chloe made sure to speak slowly and maintain eye contact with Rachel. Her dilated pupils kept darting back and forth. "That happens with weed sometimes. So just stay with me, okay?"
Clinging to Chloe, Rachel shut her eyes and continued to breathe too fast. "Am I... Going... To die?"
"Just breathe, okay?" Chloe pulled Rachel closer, embracing her. "You're not going to die. You'll be okay."
"Don't... Leave... Me."
"I won't." Chloe promised. "Never."
After being on the night shift for so long, Chloe was groggy on her first day shift. David wasn't ready to give her consistent day shifts since that involved a lot of interaction with a lot of people. He said he preferred to ease her into it.
Which would probably mean the most fucked up sleep schedule imaginable for the next month or so.
But Chloe was secretly thankful not to have to give up night shifts yet.
She couldn't give them up completely when the night shifts were probably the only times she could sneak in conversations with Max. And it had been a good while since she last got the chance to talk to Max.
As she made her way to the lab David had told her to station herself, Chloe saw a stretcher being wheeled down the hallway, pushed along by an assistant while another kept his eye on some device probably monitoring the person's stats.
The concerned looks on their faces alarmed Chloe. She pressed herself against the wall to give them enough room to pass by. When they did, Chloe felt her heart drop.
It was Max.
There was blood on her face and the machine hooked up to her was beeping rapidly.
The room seemed to sway as Chloe tried to steady herself and resist the urge to go after them. They'd already gone through a door with restricted access and there was no way Chloe could get through and come up with a valid excuse to go in and see what was happening.
If Chloe even attempted to try snooping around, she would be fired.
Then she would be of no help to Max.
Even if her heart was beating fast, Chloe forced herself to steady her breathing and continue walking.
Max was going to be okay. They had good doctors in this place. It was going to be okay.
Chloe just kept repeating the mantra in her head: Max was going to be okay.
She somehow got out of a huge car crash alive. This was nothing compared to that, right?
Max was going to be okay.
By the time she got to the lab, Chloe's heart was beating more steadily and her breathing was even. She went in and stationed herself by the door, relieving the guard that was already there. He looked happy to finally be on his break and mumbled his thanks before leaving the lab.
Just when she'd finally calmed herself down, Chloe felt her stomach twist into knots all over again.
Warran and Victoria were running tests with Steph.
"You already know what I can do, what the fuck is the point to all of this?" Steph snapped. She glanced over at Chloe. "Oh you're here." She somehow managed to put a painful amount of spite, hatred and anger into those three words.
"Hey, focus. 248." Victoria was snippy and impatient. "We know you're capable of creating an illusion that can change this whole room. We need to keep testing your abilities to keep track of your power, so can you just fucking do it?"
A stifled chuckle came from Warren and Chloe herself had to mask her laugh as a cough.
"What?" A donkey's head attached to Victoria's body looked around at them. "What's happening?"
Pursing his lips and struggling to keep a straight face, Warren directed Victoria to the mirror.
The donkey's shocked face was nearly impossible not to laugh at.
"It's a good look on you." Steph taunted.
"Guard!" Victoria turned to Chloe, "Price! Use your taser on her now!"
Chloe folded her arms across her chest. "For what reason?"
"For not cooperating!"
Brow furrowing, Chloe grit her teeth and failed to keep her answer at a civil tone. "That's not reason enough to harm her, ma'am."
The donkey face faded away to show Victoria looking furious. "Dr. Jefferson will hear about this, Price. There will be consequences for your insubordination!"
Chloe tried and failed to resist the urge to roll her eyes.
"And you." Victoria turned on Steph. "I'm going to have your rations decreased."
"Do it!" Steph bared her teeth and leaned forward, getting as close to Victoria's face as possible. "There's nothing left for me, so as far as I'm concerned you might as well just starve me to death!"
"Oh you will regret that!" Stomping her foot like she was no better than a small child, Victoria stormed out of the lab, leaving behind her an awkward silence.
Steph sighed and leaned back against the chair she was strapped to. "Think she's really going to do the stuff she threatened to do?"
Warren shrugged, "Dr. Jefferson listens to her."
The rebellious, cocky glint in Steph's eyes faded as her shoulders slumped and her head hung down. "I would kill for a pizza right about now."
"Don't say anything about killing. Could get you into trouble." Warren warned her.
Steph looked indignant, "I was just-"
"I know you were kidding, but you know how they get, don't you?" Warren tone with Steph was calmer, even friendlier than Victoria's. "Could you just do the test? The sooner we can get our notes done, the sooner you can be back in your quarters."
With a deep exhale, Steph nodded. "Fine."
It genuinely hurt to see how defeated Steph looked.
FLASHBACK; PRESENT TIMELINE
"Frank hasn't gotten back to us yet. What if Sera leaves town before we get to talk to her? What if the Prescott goons got to her?" Rachel's whispers were full of worry and fear, close to full-on panic. "Chloe, should we call Frank again?"
"Rachel, if we keep calling him, he's gonna be pissed as fuck and won't help us." Chloe closed her locker door and tried to placate Rachel, "Hey. It'll be okay."
"But they've been rounding psychics up for just about anything lately. What if they found her? What if they find me?"
"Some people are getting help though, right?" Chloe said, "I heard Kate's an outpatient in that place and she's... getting by...?"
Was it getting weirdly cold in here?
Rachel was fidgeting with her bracelet and the worry on her face hadn't left. "Chloe, I'm scared, okay? And I'm not sure who we can trust anymore! I heard that Jefferson guy is coming to give another lecture. My dad thinks I should talk to him and see if he can help me control my... my thing."
Chloe frowned. "He's kinda creepy though. Do you really wanna do that?"
"Hey, Chloe, have you seen Steph?" Mikey's unannounced question startled Chloe. She turned to face him. "We were supposed to meet for lunch, but I didn't see her at her usual spot."
"Are you spying on us?" Rachel pushed past Chloe and raised her voice at Mikey, "Are you keeping tabs on us? Why are you here?"
It was definitely getting colder. And the breeze Chloe could feel against her skin was definitely not the air-conditioning.
"Rachel..." Chloe tried to position herself between Rachel and Mikey. "I think you're getting a little paranoid there. We can trust Mikey. He's cool. Okay?"
Huffing, Rachel expressed her doubt, "I don't trust him. He could be working with the Prescotts to turn us all in."
"What are you talking about?" Mikey started backing away, clearly frightened by Rachel. "I wouldn't do that!"
Rachel tried to push past Chloe, but she stood her ground. "Rachel, you need to try and calm down. You're kind of freaking out."
"If you're innocent then why are you trying to get away?" Rachel's shout was accompanied by a blast of wind that knocked Mikey to the floor and pushed him against the lockers. "I'm on to you!"
Mikey was trembling and terrified as he curled up on the floor.
This wasn't going to end well.
Chloe kept herself in front of Rachel as they watched Drew make his way over to his younger brother. "Mikey, are you okay?"
"I-I... I think I twisted my ankle when I fell." Mikey answered. "I just fell though. I tripped. I-it's fine!"
"No you didn't just trip." Drew straightened up to face Chloe and Rachel. "I saw what you did and you're going to pay for hurting my brother."
Rachel shoved past Chloe and pointed at Drew, "I know you! Your dad works as a guard in that Prescott facility! You're working with them!"
"My dad doesn't work there anymore." Fire was forming around Drew's hands as he started to get closer.
Before Chloe could do anything to diffuse the situation, Rachel sent a blast of wind at Drew, knocking him back, but unlike Mikey, he regained his footing and fought back, shooting a burst of flames at Rachel. With a wave of her hand, she snuffed the flames out with a gust of wind.
"For fuck's sake." Evading Rachel and Drew's exchanges of fire and wind, Chloe scrambled over to the nearest fire alarm and pulled on it. It set the sprinklers off and seemed to snap Rachel and Drew out of their focus on each other. They blinked and looked in Chloe's direction.
"Now here's what's going to happen." Chloe said, thinking quickly. "We're just going to say I pulled the fire alarm as a prank. Mikey slipped on the wet floor and sprained his ankle. That way neither of you get fucking locked up for causing chaos with your powers. Deal?"
Drew was still glaring at Rachel while he crouched down next to Mikey. "Fine." At least one way or another, Drew figured out he couldn't keep protecting his little brother if the Prescotts locked him up in their facility.
Rachel folder her arms across her chest and still looked agitated.
"Rachel..." Chloe looked pointedly at her.
Sighing, Rachel nodded. "Okay. Deal."
This was probably going to be the last straw as far as Wells was concerned, but Chloe was ready to be expelled if it meant keeping Rachel safe from trouble. And on the bright side, Drew was going to owe Chloe for this favor.
Things were going to work out.
Mom was not going to be happy though. That was for sure.
As always, I love hearing from y'all, and I thank everyone for their comments and thoughts! (And I love hearing theories and stuff and bouncing ideas off of people so just keep sending them my way!
HERE WE ARE AGAIN WITH A NEW CHAPTER FOR THE WEEKEND. Thank you so much to everyone who lets me know how they feel and how invested they're getting. Each comment, review and message just gives me life and keeps me going.
Honestly, I'm pretty invested in this universe and after this fic is done (I project we'll end at around chapter 20 to 25-ish based on the way my outlines are going so far but lol we'll see how things go), I wanna try writing an original story set in this universe. Probably not with the timehopping but I'm just drawn to the setting of a top secret facility running experiments on psychics and supernaturals and forgetting to see them as people until someone speaks up and makes a difference.
If you wanna brainstorm with me or maybe even volunteer to beta read when i have actual chapters, hit me up on twitter (@stefidelly) or tumblr (thestefidelly) or on my site stefidelly.com
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The Prescott Research Institute for Psychics and Supernaturals, better known as PRIPS, currently holds within its walls a chronokinetic- someone who can manipulate time. This ability may be considered a danger to society, but the real kicker is that this particular chronikinetic is none other than Maxine "Max" Caulfield.
She was reported to have died in a car crash nine years ago.
Chloe skimmed over the details Juliet had included regarding the crash- stuff about where it happened, when it happened and who was involved. Details Chloe would rather not dwell on because she knew it would mean going down a rabbit hole of memories and flashbacks.
She took a sip of her mix of soda and vodka before continuing to read the newspaper article.
Caulfield may be alive, but she is currently living in extremely inhumane living conditions at PRIPS. We have reason to believe she is being abused by guards and scientists. More information will be forthcoming as we continue our investigation into the situation at PRIPS.
The door burst open, startling Chloe into nearly spilling her drink all over her laptop. She hurriedly locked the screen to hide the tab she had open of Dana vlogging about Max and PRIPS.
"What the hell is this?" David demanded, shaking his own copy of the newspaper at her. "Did you talk to any reporters?"
"What?" Chloe put on the look of shock and indignation she'd prepared herself to show. "No! Do you think I'm a fucking idiot? I wouldn't risk my job like that!"
David glared at her, clearly still suspicious.
Chloe dove in with her secret weapon, "After the articles they wrote about Rachel, do you really think I'd go talking to one ever again?"
There was a part of Chloe that would probably never forgive Juliet for painting Rachel out to be unstable and dangerous. It was still hard to get past that when they would talk about their plans for PRIPS.
Sighing, David seemed to force his body to relax. "You're right."
Chloe leaned back on her chair, "If you're done pestering me in my own room, you can-"
"Don't think this is the end of it, Chloe." David pointed a finger at her, "I might be able to believe you but the Prescotts will be harder to convince. We're tightening up security and talking to all personnel now that there's been this very serious breach in the NDA."
The warning in David's words made Chloe's stomach churn. She clasped her hands over each other to mask how they were starting to tremble.
FLASHBACK; CURRENT TIMELINE
"Look, all we care about is that you stop asking questions." Frank warned them. "Got it?"
Chloe nodded, not particularly keen on being in the uncomfortable position of Frank and Damon's bad side. They started walking away.
"No." Rachel pushed past Chloe and sent a blast of wind that shoved Frank and Damon forward. "Tell me where she is. Now!"
"What the actual fuck?" Damon straightened up and turned to face them. "Who the fuck do you think you are?"
He lifted one of his hands and Chloe found herself unable to move. She strained to regain control of muscles but they wouldn't listen, and it felt like an external force was shoving her downwards, pushing her to her knees.
"Rachel..." Chloe hissed through gritted teeth, glancing over to see that Rachel had also been forced to her knees by Damon's ability.
"Rachel?" Damon's eyes widened as he walked over to them, his hand out. "As in Rachel Amber?"
Sweat was forming on Rachel's brow and her face was turning red as she fought against Damon's ability.
"That makes so much sense, doesn't it?" Damon nodded to Frank, "This is James Amber's fucking kid."
Still fighting it, Rachel could almost straighten up, but she still couldn't get herself to stand. Not that she needed to. Chloe could feel the air starting to get cold and breezy.
"Your dad's a real piece of shit, you know?" Damon said.
"We're aware of that." Chloe spoke up, hoping to distract Damon's attention away from Rachel. "But what's that got to do with anything?"
"That's what I'd like to find out." Damon drew a knife and brought it dangerously close to Rachel's throat. "Why are you all so fucking interested in that whore? What can she do? Huh?"
With so much of Damon's focus now on Rachel, Chloe realized she could flex her fingers. She tried pushing against the force keeping her on her knees. It was weaker now. If she could just keep pushing past it, then she could save Rachel.
"Come on, Damon, man." Frank shifted his weight from one foot to the other, clearly uneasy. "They're just kids."
"Sera has abilities too and I'm pretty sure she's stronger than you!" Rachel taunted.
"You've heard what I did to Drew North, I'm sure." Damon pressed the knife against Rachel's neck, almost enough to cut skin, but not quite. "So I wonder why you think you can fuck around with me like this?"
With a scream, Chloe managed to break through the hold Damon's ability had on her. She launched herself at him, tackling him to the ground and getting him away from Rachel.
"Bitch!" Damon lashed out with his knife, cutting Chloe across the arm before slamming the handle of his blade against the side of her head.
Stunned from the blow, Chloe failed to resist as Damon untangled himself from her and stood over her. He managed to deliver a kick to the center of her back before a blast of wind threw him off.
"You'll pay for that." The anger in Rachel's eyes was legitimately frightening as she fought against Damon's hold on her and took step by purposeful step towards him. Wind was swirling around them all and thunder was rolling.
Damon actually looked scared as he started to crawl backwards.
"Fuck!" Damon gasped. "Hey, calm down, alright?"
Rachel's eyes were glowing as lightning began to collect just above Damon and herself. "You shouldn't have done that, Damon."
"Oh yeah?" Damon struck fast, shoving his knife deep into Rachel's stomach.
The wind stopped. The lightning disappeared.
The junkyard was dead silent.
Damon pulled the knife out and Rachel collapsed.
"Chloe!" Frank's yell snapped Chloe out of her shock. "Get the hell out of here!"
Ignoring the blood dripping from the cut on her arm, Chloe moved towards Rachel and helped her into the truck. It was a blur of pain and terror as she drove to the hospital.
A little hungover after drinking herself into stupidity because it was her preferred method of dealing with stress, Chloe tried to keep her head up as she walked through the door to the medical bay. David was hesitant to assign her to it since she didn't have access to the area yet, but he did it anyway when nobody was willing to take the shift.
This was the restricted area she'd seen Max being wheeled off to.
The last thing Max needed to see was Chloe staggering around with a hangover.
Upon entering the medical bay, Chloe tried not to stare at the bed, instead focusing on nodding to the guard whose station she was going to take. Skip high-fived Chloe as if he was tagging her into a game or wrestling match. "Good luck, Price. I've been dying of boredom the whole shift."
He made his way out before Chloe could come up with a response.
Now that she had a very mild semblance of privacy, Chloe looked at the bed.
It was definitely Max lying on it, cuffed and strapped down like she was a dangerous animal.
"Max?" Chloe whispered, glancing again towards the door to make sure there wasn't anyone who might catch her breaking protocol. She walked over to the side of the bed and had to fight back her watering eyes.
Without the glass separating them, even in the dimly lit clinic, Chloe could see how bad of a shape Max was in. She looked pale as death. Her face was gaunt and even if they'd cleaned the blood off her face, nothing could hide the deep, dark circles under her eyes.
How was she still alive?
"Chloe?" Max's eyes blinked open and her voice sounded hoarse like her throat was dry. "Hi..."
Unable to stop herself, Chloe leaned in and wrapped her arms around Max. The straps and cuffs were in the way, but they managed. Max held Chloe's side as far as the cuffs would allow, and buried her face into Chloe's shoulder. "Chloe... I almost thought we'd never hug again."
"I thought you were dead, Max." Chloe pulled away from hug and put her hands on Max's face. "But honestly, you're barely alive."
Max let out a hollow laugh. "Well they haven't killed me just yet, so I guess we can be thankful for that."
"I gotta get you out." Chloe said, "But we're still trying to work on a plan. I don't know yet who else I can trust in here."
"Warren Graham might be trustworthy, but he's also not willing to piss Jefferson off." Max cleared her throat, but her voice was still gravelly and raw. "Michael North might be on our side though. They recently tracked down his brother yesterday."
Max looked away and bit her lip. "And it's kind of my fault."
"Hey, look at me." Chloe waited for Max to turn her head back towards Chloe. "Whatever they made you do to track Drew down is not your fault. Max Caulfield, you're a fucking superhero and they're just using you. Once we're out, we can do some real good. Alright?"
With shiny eyes and a trembling chin, Max nodded. "Alright."
Chloe held Max's hand and squeezed it. After years of wishing she had one more moment with Max before that fucked up day when she just started bleeding in their hallway, Chloe thought she would never be able to hold Max's hand like this again.
"You need to let the other subjects free too. Not just me."
Chloe nodded. "I know."
It was overwhelming to think about how much they still had to do. How much planning was going to have to go into setting all the subjects free of this fucked up place. And Chloe desperately needed more allies on the inside with her.
David was head of security but Chloe seriously doubted he'd be willing to stray away from the protocols of his job, much less break out the prisoners he was tasked with guarding.
"Will it be soon?" Max asked. "I'm not sure how much more of this I can take."
Chloe bit her lip, wanting desperately to promise that it would be soon.
Instead, she asked, "What did they do to you?"
Max shrugged, "Being tested to our limits is just an every day thing at this point."
The nonchalant answer angered Chloe. How could the scientists in this place just get away with treating these people like they were no better than animals?
"Fuck them." Chloe said, starting to reach for the leather straps across Max's shoulders and waist. "You're-"
"Chloe, no!" Max hissed. "Chloe, stop. Someone's coming in."
"What are you doing?"
That was Dr. Jefferson. He walked over until he was right next to her. "I'll ask you one more time. What are you doing?"
"Tightening the straps." Max put malice into her tone and squirmed for good measure. "She thought I had a little too much wiggle room."
Dr. Jefferson looked from Max to Chloe and back.
"None of you are happy unless my limbs are numb from all these straps." Max jerked against the restraints. "Fuck you. Fuck all of you!"
"219." Dr. Jefferson's voice was low and Chloe wasn't sure why she suddenly felt scared. "Settle down before I use more painful means of keeping you in line."
Max glared at Jefferson but Chloe could see fear in her eyes as she glanced at his pocket.
"And you." Dr. Jefferson turned to Chloe. "Get back to your post by the door."
"Yes, sir." Chloe mumbled, using all her self control to walk away from Max and stand by the door. They were so close to just fucking everything up. If Chloe had actually manage to undo Max's straps and Jefferson stepped in, there would have been hell to pay.
It was amazing to be able to see Chloe again, to be embraced by her again and to talk to her again
But Max wished more than anything that Chloe could leave the room.
She didn't need to see the way Jefferson treated Max. Didn't need to see how he spoke down to her and lashed out at her and treated her with less dignity than most people would treat an animal.
"I was just about to settle in, 219," Jefferson had shifted to a casual tone. It was almost always bad news when he started off pretending to be casual in the middle of a tense room. "Until I saw some articles circulating."
Max swallowed. If only Chloe wasn't here for this. She didn't need to see this.
"Articles about you." Jefferson hand drifted to his pocket. "Did you talk to anyone you don't normally talk to?"
"No." If whistleblowing was part of Chloe's plan, Max hoped there was much more to it than just spreading news about the facility. She and the other subjects trapped here needed more action than that to be freed of this place.
"219, you are one of our most guarded secrets in this facility." Jefferson's hand moved away from his pocket and Max couldn't squirm away when he pressed against her throat. "Somebody knows intimately about you and we want to know how this happened."
Squirming against the straps and cuffs was futile, but Max couldn't help her body's reactions to being choked. "I-I don't know!"
Jefferson released his hold on her throat.
Looking over past Jefferson, Max could see that Chloe had her fists clenched and her face showed pure rage.
"You!" Jefferson turned to face Chloe. She was just barely able to mask her fury under a more neutral expression but Max could see how badly Chloe probably wanted to smash Jefferson's face in. "Go and get Subject 225 and bring her here."
Chloe nodded stiffly. "Yes, sir." She turned and left the room.
As soon as she had rounded the corner and was well out of earshot of Dr. Jefferson, Chloe dug her fingers into her hair and let out a long, loud groan, followed by a string of whispered curses. "Fuck fuck fuck!"
Breathing in and out, Chloe straightened up and continued to make her way to the cells.
"Okay." Chloe shook out her hands and rolled her shoulders. "Fuck."
Every fiber of her being wanted nothing more than to swing her baton right at Jefferson's fucking skull. Fuck him and his powertripping and his face and the shitty way he treated Max and talked down to her.
"Fuck. Jesus. Shit. Fuck." Chloe hissed out another string of curses before taking a deep breath and stopping at the door of Subject 225's cell.
"Okay." Chloe sucked in another deep breath. "Okay. Let's do this."
She tapped her keycard against the scanner to unlock the door.
Inside, Kate was groggily getting to her feet. She was still blinking the sleep from her eyes as she but her hands behind her head and faced the wall.
"Okay. Um." Fuck. David hadn't trained Chloe for this part yet.
And if fucking Jefferson clued into things and got suspicious of Chloe then everything was fucked.
"Kate? You're going to have to walk me through this." It sounded so stupid to say it out loud. "I haven't been trained for this just yet. Dr. Jefferson wants me to bring you over to the medical bay and my brain's coming up blank on the SOP's for this shit."
"Chloe?" Kate let her hands dropped to her sides as she turned to look at Chloe. "Uh... Well... Um."
"Honestly, I'm not crazy about leaving Jefferson alone with Max and I just wanna get back to the clinic and I just-"
"Okay." Kate nodded. "I get it. Come over here. You're supposed to cuff my hands behind my back. Yes, like that. Then usually a guard holds me by the shoulder or the elbow and walks me over to the destination."
Chloe followed Kate's instructions, hating how she had to be treated like some prisoner.
She deserved better. Max deserved better. They all deserved better.
By the time they got back to the clinic, Chloe had to reign in every impulsive urge to tackle Jefferson to the ground. He was towering over Max, and she looked pale and scared. Sweat was coating her face and the heart monitors were beeping rapidly. She glanced at Chloe then looked away.
"Uh..." Chloe cleared her throat. "225 is here, sir."
"Good." Dr. Jefferson walked over to Kate and roughly pulled her over to Max. "Took you long enough."
Max looked like she was trying to regain control of her breathing. She and Kate exchanged a look before focusing on Dr. Jefferson.
"What do you need us to do tonight, sir?" Kate asked.
"I want you to tell me if she's lying." Dr. Jefferson said. "She claims that she hasn't spoken to anyone out of the ordinary. But I suspect she has, if there's news floating around out there about her existence."
Chloe, what's going on? Is this part of your plan?
Blinking, Chloe looked around, not sure if she actually heard voices. Dr. Jefferson didn't seem to have heard it. And it didn't seem to come from her radio.
That almost sounded like Max. Or at least... felt like Max. If that made sense in any way.
Don't freak out. We're just using Kate's power to link minds. Are you okay?
Breathing in through her nose, Chloe somehow found it in her to take this news in stride. She nodded.
You can just think out your responses. We'll hear it. Kate's thoughts sounded and felt different from Max's.
"I can't read anything from her about interacting with other people." Kate started talking to Jefferson before he could get suspicious about any telepathic conversations. "Just the usual. Guards and scientists and all."
Dr. Jefferson looked from Max to Kate and back. "Oh really?"
Chloe, you know he's not going to stop here, right? Max's fear lingered with her thoughts. He's going to start interrogating the interns next. Then the guards and the scientists.
Maybe Juliet and Dana were wrong. Maybe this wasn't the best way to go about freeing everyone. Chloe found herself falling through a spiral of second-guessing everything and the temptation to down some shots after this shift was impossible not to dwell on.
A sudden shock of pain startled Chloe out of her thoughts. She blinked and saw Dr. Jefferson brandishing his taser at Max.
"At least I know 225 is actually using her abilities to tap into your head, 219."
Pain tends to travel through Kate's mind links. Max sensed Chloe's confusion and gave an explanation.
"Should I use a higher setting, 219? Will you be more honest with me then?" Dr. Jefferson asked.
"No! Don't! Please!" The beeping machines were louder and faster now as Max squirmed against her restraints. "We don't know anything! We swear!"
There was genuine fear in Max's voice, and through the link, Chloe could sense real terror. Even if she hated Jefferson and everything he stood for and everything he did to the subjects here, she knew he had the power to hurt her and experiment on her and nobody could stop him.
"I can't dig anything up!" Kate's voice broke as Dr. Jefferson turned to face her. "She doesn't know anything and I don't know anything! My parents haven't visited me in years. Dr. Jefferson, please. We haven't talked to anyone."
Dr. Jefferson was silent for a while.
The fear filtering through the link with Max and Kate made Chloe's heart break.
"Fine. We're done here for now." Dr. Jefferson unceremoniously shoved Kate into Chloe, who managed to catch her before she lost her balance. "Take her back to her quarters."
He left the clinic without another word.
Chloe wished she could just go after him and beat him to within an inch of his life. How could he get away with all of this? It was fucked up.
"The Prescotts fund his research and protect him from anyone who's ever tried to file a case against him." Kate's explanation was accompanied by feelings of defeat and exhaustion.
"Chloe, please don't do anything hasty." The machines were gradually quieting down now that Dr. Jefferson wasn't triggering a state of panic in Max. "Please. Just... Figure out something that will work and stick to it. Don't do anything hasty because..."
"...Because you guys will be the ones who'll pay the price." Chloe finished.
As always, throw your thoughts at me coz that gives me life.
NEW CHAPTER FOR YOUR WEEKEND READING. Special thank you to all y'all you gave me your comments and reviews and flailing feels. As always, keep doing what y'all do coz they make me feel good!
Also idk if I'll be able to update on schedule next week because it'll be Pride Weekend in Vancouver and my bae and I wanna get our gay on, but I'll still try and get Chapter 16 out before we party!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Seeing the other scientists and assistants get pushy and make threats to the subjects was one thing.
But seeing Jefferson directly inflicting pain and punishment to Max and Kate was another matter altogether.
It was all kinds of wrong and if it were up to Dana and Juliet, news of that would be all over the internet by noon. Everyone would know and there would maybe be riots at the doors.
But at what cost?
Max and Kate and all the other subjects would face even worse treatment. PRIPS would be even more secretive and guarded. Hell, people trying to speak up against it would probably just start to mysteriously disappear.
Chloe wanted nothing more than to chug the vodka under her bed as she got out of her truck and made her way through the front door.
"Chloe, are you alright?" Mom blocked the way and put her hands on Chloe's face. "What happened?"
"Nothing." Chloe avoided eye contact. "It's fine."
"Chloe." Mom didn't let go. "If you feel like you're going on a downward spiral again, please tell me."
Chloe looked at Mom and wished it was okay to tell her everything. Tell her about Max. About Kate. About how fucked up Dr. Jefferson really was. How fucked up everything was.
And almost... just almost... Chloe wanted to admit she'd started drinking again.
"I'm... I'm not okay." Chloe admitted, feeling her eyes water as she maintained eye contact with Mom. "But... But I'm trying my best. Please don't send me back there."
Mom pulled Chloe in for an embrace. "Okay. If you think you don't need to go back."
Even if being in the psych ward basically saved her life after she tried to end it, Chloe didn't want to go back there. Or to rehab, or anything like that.
Especially not when it was so important for her to stay focused on the mission of freeing the subjects.
"If you don't feel like talking to me about what's going on, please think about talking to someone else. We can bring you back to therapy or something."
Chloe knew they couldn't afford any of that when their budget was stretched thin and they were drowning in debt after Mom's heart started having all its issues.
"I'll think about it." Chloe promised, pulling away from the hug and forcing a smile. "Thanks, Mom."
Even if it looked like there was more she wanted to say, Mom nodded and went to the kitchen. Chloe went straight to her room to drink herself to sleep.
FLASHBACK; CURRENT TIMELINE
"Gotta say, I'm disappointed. The DA's kid talked a lot of shit about what you can do but you were pretty easy to take down."
What the fuck.
Chloe watched in horror as Damon circled Sera, brandishing a needle.
"I just want to meet my daughter!" Sera strained against the ropes binding her to a chair. "Can't you understand? Why does-"
"Your daughter?" Damon chuckled. "Jesus. So that's what he's worried about."
He leaned forward, uncomfortably close to Sera's face. "Can't let the public know the mother of his daughter is some junkie."
" I just want to-"
"Shut up." Damon interrupted, then roughly patted her cheek. "James Amber wants you out of the picture. So that's what's going to happen."
This was so messed up.
And Chloe couldn't keep standing by just watching.
"After all," Damon brought the needle threateningly close to Sera's face. "No one believes a junkie."
"No." Sera leaned as far back as the ropes would allow, trying to bring herself away from the needle.
"He said you've been sober a year?" The tone in Damon's voice was almost impressed. "Respect. It's hard to kick this shit."
It was now or never.
Chloe rounded the corner. "Damon!"
He turned to face her, his expression a mix of surprise and frustration. "What the fuck are you doing here?"
Thinking quickly, Chloe knew she had to catch him by surprise before he could start using his ability. She just needed him to get a little closer.
Her bandaged arm was still throbbing from the cut he'd given her earlier. Chloe knew she was at a disadvantage but she had to take action.
"I've got the money right here. Your money." Chloe took a step towards him. "You want it?"
Damon put the needle down on the table and started walking towards Chloe. "How the fuck..."
She could feel him starting to use his abilities to stop her from moving. Fuck.
Chloe lunged forward with the knife, aiming for his face but she felt an external force stopping her from finishing it. She was frozen and her muscles weren't cooperating.
"You're going to fucking regret that, you little bitch." Damon drove a fist into Chloe's stomach, knocking the wind out of her. The hold on her body released, allowing her to crumple to the floor.
Clasping her hands together behind her, Chloe kept her expression neutral as Dr. Jefferson circled her.
"You're sure you don't know anything about all the news circling around newspapers and the internet? About Subject 219?"
"I swear, sir." Chloe kept her voice even. "I'm just here to do my job."
Dr. Jefferson stopped in front of her and leaned against his desk.
His office was intimidating, full of diagrams of psychic and supernatural anatomy. On the shelves were some glass jars of bits and pieces that Chloe would rather not identify. There were a few unnerving photographs on the walls too -of psychics, Chloe presumed- looking terrified.
"This wouldn't be the first time you got tangled up in psychics and reporters while meddling in our business."
Chloe failed to mask her surprise.
"Oh, don't think I didn't look into your history, Chloe Price." Dr. Jefferson's smirk was unnerving. "You were there when we apprehended Damon Merick and Sera Gearhardt. You were there when Rachel Amber started the storm and..."
Steeling herself for the wave of memories, Chloe clenched her jaw.
"Good choice of words." Chloe muttered, trying not to think of how Rachel looked as they stood at the eye of the storm, shouting and crying and begging before... before it all came to an abrupt stop.
"You were the key person Juliet Watson talked to when she covered what happened to Rachel Amber and that storm." Dr. Jefferson continued, "She talked to us, of course. We didn't tell her we knew to prepare for the storm because of Subject 219. But we did let her know we had the resources to prepare for most catastrophes."
"Look." Her hands were shaking but she channeled the anger she still genuinely felt for Juliet. "Juliet fucked up Rachel's story. I wouldn't be caught dead talking to a reporter again."
Though she didn't think Dr. Jefferson had any semblance of a heart, Chloe didn't hesitate to pull out the sympathy card. "And if you really did any research about me, you'd know that my Mom's heart is all kinds of fucked. My stepdad and I wouldn't do anything to jeopardize our jobs here since it's the only thing keeping us from winding up homeless, drowning in all the fucking hospital bills!"
As she said it, Chloe knew there was a part of her that still genuinely worried what would happen to Mom if a mass breakout happened and Chloe lost her job. There was a high chance David would be blamed too and he'd be stripped of his job as the Head of Security.
Chloe sniffled and hastily wiped at her eyes. Thinking about Mom just brought out so much fear and worry and Chloe hated how it made her heart ache. Hated how it made her want to just curl up in bed and cry until things were okay again.
"There's no need to get so emotional, Price." Dr. Jefferson rolled his eyes. "You make some valid points supporting the theory that you aren't the mole. But there is still some evidence that suggests it could be you."
"Like what?" Chloe challenged.
"Subject 219, once known as Maxine Caulfield, was your best friend as a child, wasn't she?"
Chloe swallowed and looked down at the floor.
"You were at the crash site where we collected her." Dr. Jefferson started to circle Chloe again. "Am I wrong?"
"No, sir." Chloe kept her eyes down. "I was there in that crash."
"You amazingly survived." Dr. Jefferson pressed. "And so did she."
Chloe didn't answer.
"I have a theory." Dr. Jefferson leaned forward and whispered in her ear. "She used her ability to save you. Didn't she?"
Biting her lip, Chloe kept her focus on the floor.
"It would make sense, wouldn't it? She saved you from death in that crash and now you... What? Want to petition for her release?" Dr. Jefferson shook his head. "She's too dangerous. Abilities like hers cannot be left unmonitored. The abilities of psychics and supernaturals are too much of a risk to allow them to run amok."
Dr. Jefferson stopped in front of Chloe and folded his arms across his chest. "What then? What do you have to say for yourself, Price?"
Chloe forced herself to look up and meet his suspicious gaze. "Whatever and whoever she was nine years ago doesn't matter to me. My family... My only remaining parent... That's all that matters to me right now, sir."
Maintaining their eye contact, Dr. Jefferson didn't speak right away, as if he was waiting for her to break, for her to falter in the resolve she projected.
Finally, he nodded. "You can go for now. Send in the next guard waiting outside."
FLASHBACK; CURRENT TIMELINE
"You are one stupid, crazy bitch." Damon used his ability to keep Chloe on the ground. She couldn't fight back when he kicked her again.
Sera was screaming and struggling to get free of the ropes. Damon was shouting. So much was going on and Chloe was in so much pain. Her stomach hurt and her ribs burned with every breath and the bandages on her arm showed she was bleeding again.
She was drifting in and out of consciousness when armed officers burst in.
They surrounded Damon and tasered him before he could start using his abilities on them. A few were checking on Sera.
"What... What's happening?" Chloe was dimly aware of one of them leaning over her and checking on her.
"Take it easy, kid. We'll take you to a hospital."
Fighting back the urge to just fade away, Chloe grasped the officer's arm. "What's going on. Who are you?"
"We work for PRIPS." The officer said. "We got a tip that there were psychics trading drugs here."
Chloe frowned. "What? From who? Was it James Amber?"
The officer didn't answer, but Chloe was pretty sure that she was right.
"Just take it easy. We're getting a stretcher for you now, kid."
"What's going to happen to Sera?" Chloe tried to put force and urgency into her question but it was hard enough to breathe, let alone talk. "What-"
A series of coughs broke out of Chloe and they made everything hurt.
"Hey, try and stop talking. You seem to have a broken rib. Just take it easy."
"They're both going to be taken to PRIPS. Now please stop talking and just take it easy. We're also going to have to question you, too once you're in better shape."
Max stared at the ceiling, waiting for time to pass. Her body still felt sore and weak after the last experiment and the little interrogation with Jefferson didn't help things.
There was still a dull throb to her head, too, and she felt groggy and exhausted.
But sleep wouldn't come.
Her mind was dwelling on so many things. Chloe and how she didn't need to see how Jefferson treated Max and Kate. Chloe and whatever she was planning that involved whistleblowing. Chloe and the plan she was still developing to get them out of here. Chloe and how she was obviously struggling to cope with all this stress.
Max had seen the bags under Chloe's eyes and there was a hint of alcohol in her breath.
It was no secret that Chloe (in just about every timeline Max had ever known her) did not cope well with stress and often enough used drugs and alcohol as crutches.
Hopefully she could stay sober long enough to help get people out of here.
The door to the medical bay opened and Max watched as Warren came walking in with a clipboard and a small box. "Hi, 219. I'm just going to check on your vitals and make my report to Dr. Grant."
Max watched as he approached the machines by the side of her bed and took notes of the readings, mumbling things to himself.
"Okay," Warren turned to face Max. "I also have to take some blood for a blood test, if that's okay."
"It's not like I have a choice, do I?"
Warren shifted uncomfortably and didn't seem to know what to say.
"Yeah, sure. Just get it over with." Max sighed, leaning her head back and looking away. Needles were never really a pleasant feeling. She kept still as Warren drew blood for whatever tests they wanted to run. Probably to make sure their favorite lab rat was still in good enough health to keep being experimented on.
"Are you okay?"
Max didn't turn her head to face him.
The last thing she needed right now was to think about if she was okay or not.
Because she wasn't.
She was so far from okay and she hadn't been okay in years. It was exhausting and humiliating and demoralizing to go through life here. Day in and day out, pulled in for experiments and tests, shoved back into her cell. Rinse and repeat.
At the sound of her name, Max looked at Warren with surprise.
"That's your name, isn't it? Maxine Caulfield?"
Max wasn't sure how to answer.
After being called 219 for years, and only ever hearing her name through Kate's mind link, it had just about brought Max to tears to hear Chloe finally acknowledge Max by her name.
And now, hearing it again...
Max felt painfully aware of the sense of humanity they'd stripped from her when they took away her name.
"You don't know anything about the news going around out there about you... Do you?" Warren asked.
"No." Max put force into her words. "I don't. And I haven't been enjoying how Jefferson's pissed at me about it.
Warren nodded. "Okay."
At least he didn't push it.
Max was almost afraid he'd start interrogating her Jefferson-style. She didn't need another incident like that so soon after the last one.
"Can you just go?" Max asked. "If you're done?"
"I..." Warren stopped himself from arguing. "Okay."
"Thanks." Max paused, then admitted. "I'm just really fucking tired and I wish all of this would just finally stop."
"Dr. Grant says that she'll make sure you get another break from testing for a little while. That last one really took a toll on you and she wants you to recover before we get you using her powers again."
Max looked away. "That's not what I meant."
Warren seemed to pause in the middle of packing things up.
"Just go." Max kept her head turned away.
"There's... There's nothing I can do about that. You know that, right?"
When Max didn't answer, Warren finally left.
The way Jefferson kicked up dust about all the things that happened with Sera and Damon and Rachel and all the rest... It didn't sit well with Chloe and she now found herself sitting at a bar, drinking beer and contemplating going harder with whiskey.
She still remembered how the PRIPS crew took Sera and Damon away. How they took Chloe to the hospital for her bleeding arm and broken ribs. How they later questioned her and how she knew Sera and Damon and why she was even in there with them.
It took some mulling over but Chloe came up with some bullshit lie about owing money to Damon or whatever.
It was better to just carry on hiding that Sera was Rachel's mother. There was no telling what the Prescotts and PRIPS would want to do with Rachel once they knew how powerful of a psychic she actually was. They were already finding every reason to take her and other psychics away. Probably the only thing stopping them right now was the power James Amber held in the community.
Chloe sighed and took another long swig of her beer, savoring the buzz that settled over her head.
Topping all of that off, Dr. Jefferson was getting suspicious.
He didn't even bother hiding it. He didn't trust her and he suspected the articles were just the beginning.
Some guy helped himself to a seat next to Chloe. She ignored him and continued drinking.
Recognizing the voice, Chloe turned to face him. "Mikey?"
"I need your help." Mikey whispered. "They have Drew now. And I need to get him out."
Too stunned to respond, Chloe just stared at Mikey.
"We can make it work somehow. I have access to a lot of the tech side of the security systems. Even logs of data on the subjects. You have maps of the facility and access to weapons and the alarm systems."
"I..." Chloe fought through the buzz in her head to come up with a comprehensive response. "You know it's going to be risky, right? You heard of that Baelfire breakout? They barely got out alive."
Mikey nodded. "I know."
"We're not just getting Drew out. There are others."
"Yeah." Mikey agreed. "Let's get them all out if we can. Steph and Kate and all the others."
Chloe hesitated as she mulled over whether or not to tell Mikey everything. But seeing the combination of distress and determination on his face, Chloe felt like she could trust him.
"I've been trying to figure stuff out with Dana and Juliet."
Mikey froze. "That was you?"
"Yeah." Chloe said. "We figure if we can control the media, we can get more people to sympathize with the psychics and help us fight for their release."
It had its risks though, and Chloe was coming to realize the price that Max was paying for it.
"But I think we need to come up with something faster and bolder. Specially now that Jefferson's getting really suspicious of me." Chloe continued. "We have to get them out sooner than later."
"You're right." Mikey agreed. "I'm in deep shit too since he knows that Drew is my brother and he's trying to question why I didn't turn Drew in when they rounded everyone up."
It all happened after... and almost because of Rachel. Chloe still remembered the storm and how it projected the turmoil that Rachel was going through. How it destroyed a good chunk of the town but thankfully didn't take away so many lives because PRIPS knew ahead of time that it was coming.
"I'm done looking the other way and watching them hurt Steph and all the others." Mikey said, "They deserve to be free."
Maybe Mikey was one of the missing pieces they needed to get a breakout together. That's what Baelfire had. They had a technokinetic who took down the security systems and alarms. But a tech guy with about as much access to the system could probably do the same.
They also had one more piece to the puzzle and Chloe realized she and her team could do the same.
"Kate." Chloe said. "She can help too."
Mikey raised an eyebrow. "What do you mean? She's a lowlevel mindreader with not a lot of control."
Chloe looked around to make sure nobody was listening it, but it seemed like most of the bar patrons were busy falling into their own drunk stupor.
"I think she can do a bit more than she that. I experienced it recently. She was able to link minds with me and Max and it was basically like..." Chloe frowned, trying to think of how best to describe it. The buzz was almost gone but her thoughts were still a little cloudy. "...like we almost had a mental radio system. Or a group call."
Mikey's eyes widened. "That would be useful! If she can prove herself to have a wide enough range, we would have system where we could talk to each other without being intercepted."
"Exactly!" Chloe felt excitement bubbling through her as they finally started to have the beginnings of a plan.
Max and all the others didn't have to suffer for much longer.
Things are finally moving along now that Chloe's starting to put together her own little team of Avengers.
I AM BACK MY FRIENDS.
LOOOOTS HAPPENED in the last couple of months but I thiiiink I'll be able to start writing and updating regularly again. Maybe not weekly, but I'll try! If you're ever unsure, just drop a message or hit me up on twitter or whatever. I sometimes announce there if I'm doing any writing.
Be warned that there might be another brief hiatus during the holidays, since yeah, a lot will be going on then. So we'll see how things pan out.
ALSO A QUICK RECAP
Present timeline- Chloe recently bumped into Mikey and told him basically everthing. Max is in the medical bay.
Past current timeline- Chloe got beaten to within an inch of her life by Damon, before PRIPS officials came in and took custody of Damon and Sera.
Past alternate timeline- Max wakes up in the Dark Room and Jefferson was trying to figure out what Max's power was since she got to the roof weirdly fast when Kate was on the verge of jumping.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Mind still reeling from her meeting with Mikey, Chloe could feel the paranoia starting to set in.
What if Jefferson had convinced Mikey to spy on Chloe? What if Mikey had ulterior motives and Chloe had been too buzzed to think clearly when she basically outed all her plans to him? What if talking so much to him that night had been a huge mistake? What if Jefferson was now just waiting in the guard's locker room with a bunch of goods, ready to jump Chloe and interrogate her?
Instead, Chloe was surprised to see a small crowd gathering outside the facility, protesting, waving signs around, shouting into their megaphones. One of the protesters was standing on some kind of makeshift platform and egging on the crowd. He wore an eyepatch and a dark hoodie.
"This is not going to be good." Chloe muttered to herself as she pulled into the facility and made her way down to the basement parking.
An uncomfortable cocktail of fear and anger brewed in the pit of Max's stomach as she stared at the ceiling, trapped in her whirlwind of thoughts- Chloe and how she was clearly struggling with the gravity of the whole mess; Kate and how scared she was; Warren and how fucking oblivious he was; Jefferson...
At least in her cell, Max had the freedom to move around. She could pace the small space, slam fists into the walls, dig her nails into the thin mattress provided to her...
Here, in the medical bay, all she could do was lie in bed, stare at the ceiling. There was no point in struggling against the cuffs that kept her in place. No point in fighting the straps that made sure she couldn't so much as sit up.
Voices and hurried footsteps came from the other side of the door, just down the hall. Max could hear them coming closer.
She tensed up as the doors burst open and a team of assistants and scientists rushed a stretcher over to the machines in the corner.
Unable to sit up, Max tried to crane her head over and could just barely make out what they were doing. With a jolt in her stomach, she realized they were trying to stabilize the boy she'd helped Jefferson capture.
Dr. Grant was barking instructions at the assistants and shuffling through the boy's files. Machines were beeping erratically. Voices were raised. Everyone was moving around.
FLASHBACK; CURRENT TIMELINE
Each painful step up the stairs made Chloe want to crumple into a breathless heap. Her broken rib made each gasp feel sharp and agonizing, but she pushed forward. Even if every step was excruciating, Chloe had to admit that it wasn't as bad as when her injuries were still fresh.
Finally, Chloe made it to the end of her journey and opened the door to Rachel's room.
"Chloe?" Rachel's brow furrowed as she slowly sat up, a low hiss through gritted teeth gave away the pain she still felt from her still recovering stomach.
"You look terrible." Chloe forced her grimacing face into a smirk as she made her way closer to Rachel and sat on her bed.
Rachel raised an eyebrow. "You look worse."
The way Rachel's eyes showed concern and sympathy made Chloe very much aware of how she probably looked. Even if the swelling had gone down, her face was still covered in bruises- the worst of which were around her eyes and nose bridge. The cuts and scrapes on her cheeks and chin had made good progress with closing but they were still very noticeable.
Not wanting to dwell on how much pain she was in or how beat up she looked, Chloe changed the subject. She softened her expression and put a hand over Rachel's. "I missed you."
Rachel squeezed Chloe's hand. "I missed you too."
It had been a good two weeks since they last saw each other. They'd exchanged a few texts but it was different to be able to actually be together again.
Those two weeks had been spent recovering and being interrogated by people from PRIPS. They wanted to know how she knew Damon and Sera and why Chloe was even there in the first place.
As frustrating as it was to stay calm and rational through it all, Chloe had managed to stick to her bullshit story about owing money to Damon. They brought up Damon's claims about Rachel being Sera's daughter, but Chloe denied knowing anything about it.
The last thing anyone needed was PRIPS looking too deeply into what Rachel could do.
"What happened to Sera?"
Chloe bit her lip and winced as she was reminded of how it was still tender from the beating Damon put her through.
"PRIPS took her and Damon." Chloe couldn't hide the truth from Rachel.
The wind in the room started to pick up.
"We have to get her out somehow!" Rachel sat farther up her bed, her face giving away pain from the sudden movement. "If I can just talk to my Dad, maybe he can pull some strings. He's on pretty good terms with the Prescotts. Maybe he can just-"
"He's the one who tipped them off to where Sera and Damon would be."
Rachel's face fell.
For a moment, everything was still.
Then wind rushed around them, blowing papers and figurines all over the room. It built up into a whirlwind of objects surrounding the bed.
"Rachel..." Chloe squeezed her hand. "Rachel, please, calm down."
"Why should I?" Things sped up, and Chloe heard thunder rumbling. "Give me one good reason why I shouldn't just go storming over there and destroying them all!"
Chloe gripped Rachel's arms. "Because they'll lock you up!"
The wind stopped. The thunder quieted. Rachel's things stopped midair and fell to the floor around them.
Rachel's eyes were shiny with unshed tears. "But Chloe... They have her..."
"They have everything they need to lock you up too." Chloe said. "I saw them, Rachel. They know what they're doing and they could knock you out before you could even blast anything at them. You don't stand a chance."
Wiping at her eyes, Rachel didn't say anything.
"I don't know what I'd do if they took you, Rachel." Chloe took a deep breath before she admitted, "I need you..."
Rachel didn't say anything, but she didn't fight back as Chloe leaned in to embrace her.
It took some time spent dozing in and out of light, restless sleep before Max noticed movement on the bed next to hers.
The boy let out a soft groan and his eyes blinked open, red and bleary.
"Hey..." Max whispered. "You doing okay?"
Turning his head to face her, the boy's face showed sorrow and defeat. "No. Everything's gone wrong and I just want everything to go back to the way it was."
He jerked uselessly at the cuffs but had to resign himself to wiping his tear-stained cheek against his shoulder. Sniffling, he added, "I ruined everything. I just want my powers to go away. Then maybe none of this would have happened and I-"
The guard stationed by the door called out to them. "Hey, stop talking."
"It's okay, kid." Max whispered. "We'll figure something out, okay? I'm Max, by the way."
The boy sniffled again and swallowed loudly. "I'm... I'm Daniel."
"HEY!" The guard stomped over to them, hand on his taser. "You two quiet down now."
Max glared at him and had to fight back the urge to insult the guard. It would do nobody any good to antagonize a guard. At best, he would make threats. At worst, he could make good on those threats and start making use of his taser or his baton.
"Sorry." Max mumbled, averting her gaze.
FLASHBACK; ALTERNATE TIMELINE
"Just as I'd taken the picture, that meddling Price girl came in with Nathan in tow. She pointed a gun at me, but it was easy enough to remind Nathan of his place and get him to take the gun away from her." Jefferson's face betrayed no remorse. "Things got messy. The gun misfired at Rachel. Chloe tried to charge at Nathan and he shot her too."
Max stared at the picture Jefferson had put on her lap. Of Rachel strapped to this very chair, drenched from the sprinklers, clothes and hair sticking to her skin.
"You're a monster." Max whispered, fighting back her watering eyes.
Her wrists and ankles were still firmly bound to the chair.
But if she could just use her powers somehow...
She could feel it.
She could feel it in the churning of her stomach and the pressure in her skull. The pain came from the very core of her being and spread out across her, building up and bubbling angrily.
Focusing on the picture, Max pushed past the very limits of her abilities, straining to bring herself into that moment in this bunker. To that moment she wasn't even supposed to be part of, wasn't even witness to.
Her head, her nose, her stomach, her very bones felt like they were being crushed and burned at the same time.
The world around her was shifting.
In a flash of blinding light, Max felt her legs give under her and she found herself in a heap on the floor of The Dark Room.
Rachel was tied to the chair, drenched and shocked. Jefferson was standing over her and the look of utter surprise on his face was almost satisfying to see.
Chloe and Nathan were by the door, looking like they'd just entered and were now taking in whatever mess was going on.
It took every fiber of Max's being to refrain from running over to her and pulling her in for an embrace.
"Max?" Chloe's brow furrowed and her lip curled. "What are you doing here? Are you part of all this? What did you do to Rachel?" She pointed a gun at Max as she was slowly standing up.
Keeping her hands up, Max felt her heart ache at the sight of the distrust in Chloe's eyes. "Chloe, no. I-I just got here, I just-"
"Nathan..." Jefferson seemed to be getting over his initial shock and was now taking slow, purposeful steps towards Chloe and Nathan. "What's going on? Get that gun away from Price."
There was a look of distress in Nathan's eyes as he looked from Chloe to Jefferson and back.
Pain was radiating in the base of Max's skull and spreading all over her head. The world around her seemed to be coming in and out of focus. It took a great deal of effort and fighting through the pain to keep herself grounded in this timeline.
"Get that gun, now." Jefferson ordered.
Nathan reached for the gun and Chloe turned to point it at him.
"NO!" Max pushed her hand forward and tapped into the dwindling reserves of her abilities, freezing time just as Chloe's finger went for the trigger.
Fighting through the agony that seemed to squeeze her skull into itself, Max made her way over to Chloe and Nathan, reaching for the gun and lowering it, away from Nathan.
There was a flicker.
Max's powers faltered.
Then excruciating pain liked she'd never felt before burst through her stomach and out her back. Max's knees buckled under her as she felt her shirt begin to soak up fresh blood.
"Max!" Chloe shrieked, crouching down over Max. "Max, I'm sorry! I didn't see you and I just- How did?" She was stumbling over her words and trying to make sense of what just happened. "I'm sorry! Let's get you out of here and let's get you help and-"
This isn't how things were supposed to play out.
She needed to try gain.
It was agony- fighting through her bleeding stomach and her bleeding nose and the urge to just curl up into a ball and let the universe take her away.
But she needed to try again.
Ignoring Chloe's babbling, Max shuffled through the pictures in her pocket, blindly picking one out and focusing into it.
This is a bit of a short chapter today after our little hiatus, but I'm kind of still getting back into the groove of things and we're also starting to build up to the breaking point of all the timelines so let's see how things go and I'll try to keep the flow going.
SO. This chapter's kind of disgustingly short. I feel bad, but that's what I had outlined and I guess I'm still regaining my footing and getting my groove back.
I have outlines up to the end and the epilogue as of now. I might move things around, but I think I'm quite set on how things will flow from here. Assuming I don't change how I feel about what I've got planned out lol
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
With no real way to tell time, Max felt herself growing unbearably restless.
She felt significantly better already. At this point, she would have welcomed a testing session with Jefferson or whoever. Just to have something to do other than just lying down, strapped to a bed.
Daniel on the other hand was still in need of more recovery time- still weak and drained. But he was getting bored too. He kept trying to make conversation with Max, only to be shushed by the guards.
The doors burst open and Jefferson stormed over, followed by several guards.
"219, do you have any idea of how much of a mess you've made?" Jefferson towered over Max, murderous rage in his eyes. "You've given me the biggest of headaches these last few days, 219."
The machines hooked up to Max started to beep rapidly, giving away how much her heart had picked up its pace.
"What are you talking about?" Max swallowed. "I've been here this whole time."
"Half the articles going out right now are about you and I want to know how you somehow managed to contact someone from outside." Jefferson's hand went for Max's jaw, holding her face still, forcing her head up to look straight into his eyes. "Who did you talk to?"
The machines were beeping even more franticly.
"I don't know what you're talking about." Max kept her face neutral but she knew it did no good.
"Hey, what are you doing to her?" Daniel jerked in his restraints. "Dr. Jefferson, please don't hurt her."
Jefferson released Max's face and turned to face the guards he'd come in with. "You know what to do."
One of the guards left for a moment and came back with Warren, who was quick to inject Daniel. Max didn't have long to wonder what it was. Daniel's eyes closed and he went limp as the sedative took effect.
The rapid beep of the machines were then shut off by Warren before he threw a sympathetic glance at Max then left the room.
Another guard muttered into his radio. "Shut off the feed for the medical bay. Boss will tell us when to put it back on."
"I'm going to ask you one more time, 219." Jefferson drew the taser. "Who have you been talking to?"
"Things are getting pretty insane at PRIPS now." Chloe had draped herself over a lounge chair in Dana's apartment. Mikey was curled into himself on the far end of the sofa, Juliet was leaning over the coffee table and typing into her laptop while Dana paced back and forth, occasionally making notes on a large whiteboard. "There're protests going on outside and meanwhile stuff going on inside... It's really bad."
"They've been talking to all of us and trying to find out who's been leaking info about the facility." Mikey added. "I've heard Jefferson say he was probably going to start banning people from bringing their phones through the door."
Chloe nodded. "And they've been worse on the subjects, too."
The sight of Jefferson bullying Max and Kate, threatening them with his taser and making good on those threats... It was enough to send Chloe's mind back into a spiral of rage. Jefferson had to pay for this. He couldn't just treat people like that and get away with it. It didn't matter that he was some prestigious doctor and the head scientist of PRIPS. They were going to take him down one way or another.
"He's been going pretty wild with his taser on them." Chloe said, "It's fucked up how he tried to torture Max and Kate into telling him about us leaking those articles."
"They also get their food rations decreased when they piss scientists off." Mikey said, "And I know for a fact some guards beat subjects that don't cooperate."
"That's fucked up." Dana had a hand over her mouth. "That's more of a fucking prison and torture chamber than a research facility."
Juliet was typing away at her keyboard. "We need to get the word out about this. More people need to know and we need more protests. If we can just-"
"No, I think we should hold off on posting stuff just yet." Chloe interrupted Juliet's train of thought. "It's getting really dangerous for the people trapped in there."
Dana and Juliet looked shocked.
Looking over her laptop at Chloe, Juliet said, "But Chloe, we need to get more and more people involved in this. We need-"
"You don't get it." Chloe stood up. "They're trying to torture Max and Kate and all the others into telling Jefferson who we are and how we know about what goes on in the facility. And Jefferson is on to me. If he catches me slipping up, then we're fucked because I'll be fired and then we would barely have a way to get through to the subjects."
"I can't risk being fired either." Mikey said, "Not when they've got Drew now."
Dana chewed on her lip. "Okay... Okay, I see your point." She moved over to sit next to Juliet. "What do you suggest?"
"I think we need to just fuckin bust them out." Chloe reached for her beer on the coffee table and took a long swig. "I think we need to find the right time to kill the security system- that's where Mikey comes in. Get the people out of their cells- that's where I come in. And we just drive the fuck away- that's where you two come in."
Dana and Juliet exchanged looks.
Juliet was the one who spoke up. "While there's some merit to your idea... I think we need a more elaborate plan."
FLASHBACK- CURRENT TIMELINE
Ever since the whole mess with Damon and Sera and Mr. Amber, Rachel hadn't been the same. She was distant and argumentative. The only thing that seemed to bring some life back into her was any talk of leaving Arcadia Bay. They would plan it out together, just escape all of this bullshit of a town.
But then she would also often share her regrets about leaving. About bringing herself farther away from Sera.
They tried once to visit PRIPS and ask about Sera, but they claimed not to have anyone on file under that name.
They were hiding her and covering it up.
Chloe had to drag a hysterical Rachel out of the building to avoid getting into conflict with the guards. One of whom was stepdouche. And whenever Chloe tried to ask him about Sera, he would avoid the question or say he couldn't break the NDA. Info on Sera was classified.
Sighing, Chloe tried to clear her head of the worries about Rachel.
Now was not the time to dwell on that. Now was the time to throw some money at Frank and get a nice good high.
The walk wasn't long. Chloe distracted herself from her Rachel worries by counting how many posters she could find. They were plastered throughout the city, warning about an oncoming storm and how houses that didn't have bunkers of their own should know where evacuation sites were.
It was weird how much the town bigshots were talking about preparing for storms. They were worse about the drills and preparations than they were about fires or earthquakes.
Chloe was just at the trailer and about to knock when the door opened, nearly hitting her. She scrambled back and felt utter shock upon recognizing who was coming out.
"Rachel?" Chloe gaped. "What are you doing here?"
Rachel looked just as surprised to see Chloe. "Oh! Hi Chloe! I was just... Getting some stuff from Frank."
"Oh..." Chloe wasn't sure how to respond. She hadn't know that Rachel was getting high on her own. It used to be something they would do together. "Okay."
Frank came stumbling out of his trailer without a shirt on. He nodded to Chloe. "Hey."
Before Chloe could ask any questions, Rachel pulled her in for a kiss. It was deep and intimate and almost desperate. There was passion in it that Chloe hadn't felt from Rachel in weeks, even months. Her hands held Chloe, kept her close like a rift hadn't been growing between them.
It was like Rachel was back. Finally back.
When they at last pulled away from the kiss, Chloe could see Frank watching with a weird, almost jealous expression.
"Come on, Chloe." Rachel said, "You don't need to buy anything today, I've got us covered."
"Okay." Chloe pushed away any worries that threatened to fill her mind, instead choosing to focus on how warm and soft Rachel's hand was as they intertwined fingers. They walked together, hand in hand, shoulder to shoulder.
Stopping in her tracks, Chloe turned to face her mothers' bedroom door. It was ajar, and through the small opening, Chloe could see Mom lying in bed.
"Mom?" Chloe walked into the room. "What's up?"
"How are you?" Mom asked. "I'm worried about you."
"I..." The lie about being okay couldn't seem to make its way out. It caught in Chloe's throat and she swallowed uncomfortably. "I'm..."
Mom sat up and leaned forward. "Chloe, what's going on?"
Chloe bit her lip and looked away.
The urge to take a long swig of the booze in her bedroom was a powerful pull that made her want to just lie about being okay, end the conversation and hide in her bedroom. It almost comforted Chloe to know that after this uncomfortable conversation with Mom, the vodka and the beers would be ready to welcome Chloe back with open arms.
And that's when it hit Chloe that she was slipping back into her terrible old habits.
And with so much hanging in the balance... So much riding on Chloe being able to do her part...
She couldn't afford a full relapse.
"Chloe?" Mom was standing up now, reaching for Chloe's face, cupping her cheek. "Tell me what's wrong."
"I..." Chloe tried again, and this time she was able to push past the blockage in her throat. "I need your help."
Mom's brow furrowed. "What do you mean?"
Chloe let out a breath.
This was hard.
She didn't want to do this.
"Can you come with me?" Chloe asked, "And watch me throw out my drinks?"
There was a flicker of pain and disappointment in Mom's eyes, before she managed a smile that looked genuine. Almost like a combination of pride and concern. Hurt and admiration. Bittersweet.
She pulled Chloe in for an embrace. "Yes. Thank you, Chloe."
Sooo in other news, I've been developing a story for a new comic, with a similar premise as this fic, but with an original cast and different location. I've teased about it on my social media (twitter/ig/fb). I barely use tumblr anymore, so if you wanna nudge me about updates on this fic, tap me on twitter (stefidelly).
I'm going to try to stay on track and hopefully have the next chapter ready next week or so :D
Another super short chapter today, sorry! I almost wasn't ready to update this weekend, but I found time this morning to really get some writing done, so here we are!
MAJOR TRIGGER WARNING FOR SUICIDE, YOU MIGHT WANT TO SKIP OVER THE TWO FLASHBACK SCENES IN THIS CHAPTER IF YOU NEED TO
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
FLASHBACK- CURRENT TIMELINE
When she found them, Chloe felt everything inside her just shatter. Pictures of the two of them. Hugging, laughing, kissing.
"Chloe, what are you doing?"
Hands trembling, heart pounding, Chloe stood and it felt like everything was darkening and slowing down as she turned to face Rachel. There was concern and confusion on her face, until Chloe lifted her hand up and let the pictures fall to the floor.
"Hey..." The wind was picking up as Rachel raised her hands in what could have been a placating gesture, but Chloe was too furious to be calmed by it. "Chloe, I can explain."
There were no words. Chloe couldn't find them as they caught in her throat and stayed there. Her legs felt unsteady and her stomach seemed to be much heavier, threatening to pull her through the floor and into some dark and godforsaken abyss because that's where she would rather be right now.
She couldn't even stand to look at Rachel's face right now. Couldn't bare to see the pain in her eyes without questioning the sincerity in them.
The wind was getting stronger, circling them.
"Chloe, please." Rachel moved forward and looked hurt when Chloe stepped back. "Chloe, it's not what you think."
Chloe paused in getting ready for work.
It was hitting her again.
She couldn't help the light tremor to her hands as she buttoned up her uniform.
Chloe failed to save Rachel.
Now... There was a chance where Chloe could save Max.
The whole reason Chloe was still alive right now was because Max took action and pushed her out of that fucking car just in time. And that was the whole point- timing meant everything. Hesitation cost lives.
And now more than ever, Chloe needed to be focused.
A ring on her phone caught Chloe's attention. It was a number she didn't recognize, but she picked it anyway. "Hello?"
Chloe's brow furrowed. "Mr. Caulfield?"
"I got your number from your mom." Mr. Caulfield's tone was sharp and brisk. "If you're in contact with those reporters spreading lies about Max, I'm going to have to ask you to stop."
"No, but I've seen her!" Chloe insisted. "She's there, and she needs help and-"
"You saw her die. And now you see her alive. What's the truth, really?"
"I-it... There was-" Chloe fumbled over her answer, caught off guard by the accusatory tone. It was such a mess to explain and Chloe had to gather her thoughts to be able to explain it all to someone who probably didn't know anything about it.
"Just leave it." Mr. Caulfield snapped. "It's bad enough seeing lies about our dead daughter circulating the media, but you just about confirmed you're part of this whole absurd rumor."
Chloe wasn't sure what to say.
"Just stop it." Mr. Caulfield ended the call before Chloe could figure out a response.
FLASHBACK- CURRENT TIMELINE
"Chloe, I'm begging you, please, just-"
"No." Chloe pushed past Rachel and tried to make her way through the ring of powerful wind, but a fresh blast knocked her down.
The wind grew even stronger, and Chloe found herself starting to fear for her life. It had reached a dangerous level of power- the bedside table started flying around them, then came the desk and the bed. Wood from the walls started breaking off to join the growing tornado and the ceiling was starting to cave in.
"Rachel..." Chloe turned to face her. "You're going to have to calm down."
Instead of settling down, things got worse, the house just started to take itself apart around them. Windows were shattering, wood was splintering. The neighbors' houses started to give into the pull of Rachel's brewing storm.
"It started off just as a means to an end. Getting high for the price of a kiss here and there." Rachel's voice was shaky and tears were running down her cheeks. "But he listened to the stupid things I would say and he was sweet and... And I couldn't bring myself to choose between the two of you."
"Rachel..." Chloe stood up and made her way towards Rachel. "That's fucked up but that doesn't matter right now, you need to-"
Houses were just coming apart, rain was coming down, lightning was flashing, the sky was dark and heavy. People were running for their bunkers and taking cover in the evacuation sites.
"I-I... I don't know how." Rachel's turmoil seemed to be making things even worse.
"Figure it out!" Chloe grabbed Rachel by the shoulders and shook her. "People could be hurt! People could die!"
Rachel's eyes were wet with tears. "I can't."
"You have to!" Chloe hoped Mom and even stepdouche had managed to take cover in one of the Prescott sites. If Rachel really couldn't stop this fucking storm, then the whole town could be wiped out at the rate that things were going. "Rachel, if-"
Chloe jumped back as Rachel pulled out a gun.
"Rachel, what the fuck-"
"I took it from Frank." Rachel wasn't pointing it at Chloe, but that didn't stop her from feeling any less alarmed by the sight of it. "My powers have been getting worse... Ever since that whole mess with Damon and Sera, I've been having trouble keeping things powered down."
Chloe knew Rachel had been struggling with her abilities, but they'd also been seeing each other less, so it was hard to grasp how bad things had really gotten.
"I've been having to go out into the woods or empty parks whenever I felt them flaring up." Rachel continued.
"Okay, but that doesn't explain why you have-"
"Just in case I couldn't stop it and it got this bad." Rachel put the gun to her head. "I'm sorry."
Chloe's heart skipped a beat.
"No, Rachel, no!" She tried to move, but it was too late. The gunshot filled Chloe's ears and the storm came to an abrupt stop just as Rachel's body hit the floor.
The fresh bruises were throbbing and Max felt all the more aware of how powerless she was in this place.
Even if Chloe managed to figure out a plan, Max doubted it would work. Dr. Jefferson would catch on and figure something out. He was already so close to getting it out of Max when Dr. Grant stepped in and told him the "session" was over.
There was regret, maybe even guilt in her eyes as she inspected Max, took stock of fresh injuries and rebooted the monitors. Then she left without saying much.
And yet, she didn't seem like she was going to really do anything other than pick up the pieces and put them back together for the other scientists to take apart again.
That's how it worked here. It was just a cycle of being experimented on to within an inch of her life, treatment and recovery here in the medical bay, then rinse and repeat.
The doors opened as the guards changed shifts. Max didn't bother to look to see who the new guard was.
But it was a pleasant surprise when Chloe strolled over.
Then Max saw the look of horror Chloe wore as she took in Max's appearance.
It was humiliating and Max wished her hands were free to cover up her battered face. At best, she could turn her head away. "It's not a big deal. Chloe, I'm fine."
"No." Chloe clasped Max's hand. "You're not."
Hesitantly, Max looked up at Chloe. "I'm tired... Tired of all this. I just wish it could be over and done with."
"It'll get better." Chloe promised. "We're figuring it out."
Max just shrugged as much as the straps would allow. "So is Dr. Jefferson."
Chloe's expression hardened. She pulled out her phone and made a call. "Mikey, you have a shift tonight, don't you? We're doing this now. Yes. Now."
I dunno for sure yet, but I might need more than a week to develop the next chapters, but I'll be sure to keep y'all posted as much as possible! And I'm kind of aiming to wrap this fic up before the holidays.